If someone flipped to the Washington Commanders' Week 17 game against the San Francisco 49ers at halftime, they probably would have been surprised at the score. After getting blown out against the cream of the NFL crop for the better part of a month, the Commanders were actually playing well and competing against a team that had run through playoff contenders for the last eight weeks.
But then the third quarter got underway, and once the 49ers put both hands on the steering wheel, there was little the Commanders could do to wrestle momentum away from them.
Although the 49ers executed a handful of explosive plays when necessary during their 27-10 win over the Commanders, there wasn't anything special to their game plan. And yet, despite the Commanders competing longer than many expected, the fact that they were able to execute and control the clock was more than enough to hand the Commanders their seventh consecutive loss -- their longest streak since 2013.
The Commanders will wrap up the season with a home matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 7. Kickoff has yet to be determined.
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders during their Week 17 game against the San Francisco 49ers. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
The drama for the Commanders began two days before kickoff, when it was announced that Jacoby Brissett was questionable with tightness in his hamstring. Brissett tried to warm up, but it still wasn't enough to convince the training staff that he could run the offense without further injuring himself. That left the team to put Sam Howell, who had been pulled in the previous two games and put in the backup role last Wednesday, back in the starting lineup with Jake Fromm as his backup.
Though he did throw two interceptions, pushing his number of picks to 10 in the last six games, there were some moments where Howell looked closer to the version in the first half of the season that had given the team so much hope for the future. He was only sacked one time, took shots down the field when they were provided to him -- like the 42-yarder to Terry McLaurin that inched the wideout closer to recording his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
But Howell's struggles still persisted at inopportune moments. Both of his interceptions came on forced throws -- one to McLaurin and one to Byron Pringle. He also had a head scratching throw on the last offensive possession for the Commanders that fell around the 49ers' 40-yad line with no one -- receiver or defender -- there to grab it.
While the Commanders' offense sparked and fluttered, the 49ers were running on a consistent flame that blazed at the right moments to ignite explosive plays downfield. It should be noted that the Commanders' defense played well at times, often holding the 49ers to smaller chunks of yardage, but those gains, however small, began to add up. They ended the afternoon with 408 yards -- while running just 68 plays, no less -- highlighted by 184 yards on the ground and 28 first downs to the Commanders' 12.
That, plus another solid day for Brock Purdy (12-28, 230 yards, 2 TDs), led to the 49ers maintaining complete control of the game. The Commanders were left to run just 43 plays in just over 21 minutes of game time.
The game started as many predicted it would; the 49ers jumped out to a 10-0 lead with Deebo Samuel getting a pop pass from Purdy and taking it in for the two-yard score. The problem, much as it has been all year for the Commanders, was that the defense would get San Francisco in ideal positions before giving up more detrimental plays. That happened on third-and-9, when Purdy found Brandon Aiyuk for a 17-yard pickup and followed that up with a 16-yard pass to Samuel.
Though the execution from the Commanders has been lacking at times, they at least have continued to stay resilient and compete. Thanks to Brian Robinson Jr., who gained 34 yards on his first two touches back from injury, and McLaurin, the Commanders were able to fight back from the double-digit deficit. Robinson's plays helped get Washinton in range for a 47-yard field goal, while the 42-yarder from McLaurin paved the way for a three-yard touchdown, also by McLaurin, five plays later.
After being held out of the end zone inside the Commanders' 5-yard line, the 49ers tacked on a 22-yard field goal to make things 13-10 at halftime. Though they were still down, the Commanders had given themselves a chance and opened up the third quarter with the ball.
That's where things started to fall apart.
The Commanders opened up the second half with a three-and-out. The 49ers pounced on the opportunity to extend their lead, putting together a 12-play drive that featured nine runs and ended with Elijah Mitchell getting a clean lane for a two-yard score, his first rushing touchdown of the season.
Even then, the Commanders tried to counter. They moved down to the 49ers' 11-yard line, thanks in part to a 25-yard pass to Curtis Samuel over the outstretched hand of Fred Warner on second-and-20. But Howell's pass intended for McLaurin as picked by Charvarius Ward and ruled down at the 5-yard line.
The 49ers turned that into another touchdown -- a 95-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown to Aiyuk on a scramble drill in the end zone. Two plays later, Howell threw his second interception, this time to Deommodore Lenoir, at the Commanders' 41.
The 49ers were knocking on the door again at the Commanders' 1-yard line. Washington held strong at the goal line and kept them out on four tries, but the 49ers had also burned nearly five minutes off the clock. With the Commanders needing three scores to pull out a comeback, that was almost as valuable.
The Commanders had two more chances to at least make the game look closer. Instead, they picked up 11 yards on seven plays, and with John Bates' six-yard catch coming up short on fourth-and-8, that allowed the 49ers to run out the clock and leave FedExField with their seventh win in eight games.