Take a bow, Christian McCaffrey. You couldn’t have done much more for the 49ers.
When San Francisco acquired the dual-threat running back in Week 7, he quickly proved he could actually be a triple threat. Ten days after being acquired, McCaffrey passed for a touchdown, received a touchdown and rushed for another score in a rousing win over the Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers nearly had to put his quarterbacking skills to the test in Sunday’s NFC Championship, as the quarterback curse continued to bite the franchise in a 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
As if it wasn’t bad enough third-stringer Brock Purdy injured his elbow in the first drive, fourth-stringer Josh Johnson was knocked out in the third quarter with a concussion. McCaffrey said he was ready to get in the game under center as an emergency quarterback and even threw up a fourth-quarter pass.
“We had some plays up that were ready to go,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey got one direct snap in the fourth quarter but wasn’t pressed into real quarterback duties. With Purdy hobbled and Johnson out, the 49ers became one-dimensional against a talented Eagles defense.
After Purdy’s elbow injury, McCaffrey actually gave the Niners some hope with his scintillating 23-yard touchdown, when he made three defenders miss en route to the end zone. CMC showed off his rare combination of shiftiness and power on the jaunt after he was almost tackled for a loss.
The touchdown tied up the game, but the Eagles scored the final 24 points of the contest.
McCaffrey finished with 15 carries for 84 yards and caught four passes for 22 yards, but it was a virtually impossible task to get back at the Eagles after the quarterback injuries. Running back Elijah Mitchell was also unavailable with a groin injury.
"It's not ideal," McCaffrey said. "You never want to see any of your teammates get hurt, let alone the quarterback position. It's tough. You're never out of the fight though. We believed it. It just didn't turn out our way. We got beat. Wish we had another shot at it with everybody. But that's life. It's the way it goes."
When McCaffrey was initially acquired, some wondered if the 49ers gave up too much for the 26-year-old with a lot of mileage. San Francisco sent second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks to the Carolina Panthers, but there’s no doubting that CMC was worth it. Likewise, the Panthers finished 7-10 this season and McCaffrey got to make the deepest postseason run of his career.
“There’s a lot of emotions that come at you at once,” McCaffrey said. “It’s obviously disappointing. We wanted to be playing and have a shot to play in the Super Bowl. At the same time, I’m unbelievably grateful for the way this team took me in in the middle of the year. Feels like a family in there from the coaches to the players to ownership. I’m grateful for everyone in that locker room.”
The 49ers went 12-2 with McCaffrey in the lineup, winning a dozen straight once he got fully acclimated to the offense. He finished the season with 984 rushing yards, 572 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns in 14 games. McCaffrey carried the offense on his back during stretches and was a first-down machine, his positionless nature unlocking the full potential of the offense.
“It was very special,” McCaffrey said. “I go back to the practices when I first got here and I didn’t know a lot of people. Just observing, there’s a reason why that team has a shot every single year and I know why now. The fight that’s in the locker room is amazing. It’s unfortunate that it happened the way it did today. Because I feel like all those guys deserve a real shot. We all do.”
McCaffrey will likely be back in 2023, though, as he still has three more years remaining on his current contract at $12 million a year. None of the money is guaranteed, but it seems like a lock the 49ers will bring him back at that price.