The Washington Commanders' Christmas Eve in California was spoiled by the San Francisco 49ers in a 37-20 defeat at Levi's Stadium. After a short week and a trip across the country, the Burgundy & Gold was unable to meet a formidable test from a 49ers team that had already clinched the NFC West. Here are three numbers to know from Washington's second-straight loss:
When the final whistle blew on Saturday afternoon, 35 of San Francisco's 52 offensive plays (67%) were run in Washington territory. The Commanders' defense had valiantly held the 49ers' offense scoreless in the first quarter, but the home team was able to break through with about 6:30 to go in the second and from there, displayed so many of the ways it can be so dangerous.
But the 49ers' talent and chemistry alone were not the sole reasons for all that time spent in Washington territory. A good portion of it had to do with mistakes and misfortune from Washington. In the third quarter, an unnecessary roughness call allowed the 49ers to start the ball on their own 40-yard line, and they made the most of that field position by getting points on the drive. The 49ers' third touchdown of the game came from a turnover on downs at the Commanders' own 34.
Finally, Taylor Heinicke’s fumble and interception on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter resulted in the 49ers getting the ball back on Washington's 11- and 25-yard line respectively. These moments dug the Commanders into a hole that was too steep for them to climb out of.
While a short field helps, it certainly does not guarantee a touchdown. Big playmakers are needed to make that happen and the Commanders were punished over and over again on Christmas eve by one of the best of those in the league in 49ers tight end George Kittle.
Kittle was responsible for both the 49ers' second and third touchdowns. On the first, Brock Purdy made a 33-yard pass that found the tight end in stride as he streamed in the end zone. The second capped a two-play drive from Washington's 34 after that aforementioned turnover in downs. Purdy hit an open Kittle with a short five-yard pass and then the tight end was able to run 26 yards into the end zone.
Those two touchdowns only tell part of the story of Kittle's impact on the game. The tight end was used frequently, and half of his catches made up the 49ers' 10 longest plays. He finished the afternoon with 120 receiving yards, which accounted for 55% of San Francisco total passing yards.
Coming into this game, the 49ers' defense was ranked the best in the NFL, and against the Commanders, showed why that ranking is not a fluke.
Over the course of this season, the Commanders have leaned on their run game to great effect. The Commanders' running back unit, highlighted by Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson, has inflicted damage on opposing defenses and been instrumental to Washington's success. While the 49ers presented a difficult challenge with the best rushing defense in the league, it made sense to at least partly rely on what had made the offense successful.
The task was ultimately too difficult, though. Every Washington player that tried to get to work on the ground game found himself trying (and failing) to run through a seemingly immovable red and gold wall. The Commanders finished with 79 net rushing yards -- their second lowest total of the season -- with a average of 2.4 yards per run.
There seems to be a strong correlation between Washington's run game finding success and games ending in the Commanders' favor. With two must-win games up ahead, the Commanders will be looking to get that unit back to ticking the way we have seen it during the highs of recent months.