The Commanders fell to 4-12 with a 27-10 loss to the 49ers. Here are four takeaways from the game.
Sam Howell falters late in surprise start: Jacoby Brissett was scheduled to make his first start of the season for Washington, but the veteran quarterback developed hamstring tightness on Thursday and was deemed unfit to play after a Sunday morning workout at FedEx Field. Howell, who was benched in the second half in each of the past two weeks, put together his best performance in over a month through three quarters, but he struggled late and threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions. The second-year pro finished 17 of 28 for 168 yards.
Howell threw a perfectly placed 42-yard strike to Terry McLaurin on an 84-yard touchdown drive that tied the game, 10-10, in the second quarter, capping the march with a tight-window throw to McLaurin just inside the pylon. After nearly throwing an interception on Washington’s opening drive, Howell played three turnover-free quarters. He then threw picks on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter, including one that ended a drive in the red zone, bringing his streak of games with at least one interception to six.
Chase Young has a quiet return: Young, whom the Commanders dealt to the 49ers at the Oct. 31 trade deadline, told reporters earlier this week that his first matchup against the team that selected him second overall in the 2020 NFL draft was “just another game.” If Young had any extra motivation to face his former team, it didn’t translate to production, as he was credited with only one tackle and one quarterback hit. Young has 2½ sacks in eight games for the 49ers.
The Commanders were down three starters along the offensive line, but backup tackles Cornelius Lucas and Trent Scott held their own against Young and the 49ers’ fierce pass rush for most of the game. Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell registered San Francisco’s only sack of Howell, on Washington’s first drive of the second half. Sunday also marked all-pro left tackle Trent Williams’s first game at FedEx Field as a visitor since Washington traded him to the 49ers in 2020. Williams, who led his team out of the tunnel before the game, helped pave the way for a rushing attack that gained 184 yards.
49ers QB Brock Purdy rebounds: One week after throwing a career-high four interceptions in a blowout loss at home to the Ravens, Purdy returned to his MVP form against the Commanders. The final pick in the 2022 NFL draft feasted on Washington’s injury-depleted secondary, which was already without starting cornerbacks Benjamin St-Juste and Kendall Fuller and lost backup Tariq Castro-Fields to a shoulder injury in the first half.
Purdy finished 22 of 28 for 230 yards and two touchdowns and passed Jeff Garcia to become the 49ers’ all-time single-season passing yards leader in the process. His favorite target was wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who had seven catches for 114 yards, including a fourth-quarter touchdown. Deebo Samuel added five grabs for 37 yards and a score as San Francisco overcame the loss of running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 91 scrimmage yards before leaving the game in the second half with a calf injury.
Red zone defense keeps things respectable: The 49ers possessed the ball for eight more minutes than the Commanders in the first half, but their lead was only three at the break, as Washington’s defense limited San Francisco to one touchdown on its first three red zone trips. The 49ers had first and goal at the Washington 1 late in the first half when Daron Payne burst through the line and tackled McCaffrey for a loss of three on first down. San Francisco got no closer before settling for a 22-yard field goal by Jake Moody.
Washington’s defense eventually wore down in the second half against McCaffrey’s replacement, Elijah Mitchell, who capped an 83-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run that gave San Francisco a 20-10 lead in the third quarter. Mitchell was stopped on fourth and goal with less than four minutes to play after Howell’s second interception, but he finished with 17 carries for 80 yards. San Francisco’s win coupled with the Eagles’ loss gave the 49ers the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.