SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The NFL’s Most Valuable Player award has been presented to a quarterback in each of the past 10 seasons.
That’s a fact that wasn’t lost on the discussion in the San Francisco 49ers’ locker room after their 35-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
But after running back Christian McCaffrey racked up 177 yards from scrimmage, scored four times and set a franchise record for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown (13, including playoffs), left tackle Trent Williams had no fear say it might be time for that to change.
“Hey, all these streaks come to an end, right?” Williams said. “This could be the year. I can see it.”
October 20 marks one year since the Niners acquired McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers for second-round, third- and fourth-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft and a fifth-round pick in 2024. That’s when the Niners signed him. General manager John Lynch described him as a “force multiplier,” the type of player who can elevate everyone around him.
That was evident often during McCaffrey’s time with the team, but never more evident than on Sunday afternoon. McCaffrey broke Jerry Rice’s record on the Niners’ first drive by rushing into the end zone from one yard out.
“It means a lot,” McCaffrey said. “Touchdowns are a lot of fun. Hopefully we can keep going.”
On San Francisco’s second possession, McCaffrey took a lateral tackle from quarterback Brock Purdy, missed a defender, made another hurdle throw and stormed into the end zone for an 18-yard score. Williams was standing nearby as McCaffrey played the piece and immediately marched up to him to tell him, “Man, you’re a baaaaaad boy.”
McCaffrey added a 6-yard touchdown grab from Purdy and a 2-yard scoring run to set a personal best with four touchdowns in a game, tying himself for the second-most in franchise history in a single game to secure. It was such a dominant performance that the Los Angeles Lakers featured LeBron James Posted on X: “CMC, you are ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!!!! MY GOODNESS.”
McCaffrey’s production wasn’t limited to this Sunday. Through the first four games, he has amassed a league-best 600 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage (also the most in the NFL). He joined Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1963 and 1958) and Emmitt Smith (1995) in becoming the only players in NFL history to record at least 600 scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns in his first four games of the season.
Since becoming the Niners’ starter on October 30, 2022, McCaffrey has appeared in 14 regular season games. He recorded 1,748 scrimmage yards in those games (all of which were wins). That number leads the NFL and is the second-most yards from scrimmage during a 14-game winning streak, behind only Terrell Davis (1,849 in 1997–98), the Hall of Fame Denver Broncos running back who played with McCaffrey’s father, Ed. on these teams for most scrimmage yards by a player during a 14-game winning streak.
“I’m not sure about the rest of the league at the moment but I thought he played like that [an MVP] Last year when he was here,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Christian is so great, he helps us win every time he’s out there, but when you have a guy who can do everything, you can always have incredible stats, but he shares that with a lot of other guys and we do whatever it takes to win. So for me, the thing that makes it hardest for him is just the stats and the way it works.”
Another potential obstacle in McCaffrey’s MVP quest could be his own teammate: Purdy. As McCaffrey ran through the Cardinals on Sunday, Purdy narrowly missed the air, finishing the game 20 of 21 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 134.6. He added a rushing score.
Purdy also made a bit of history, as his 95.2% completion rate is the highest in 49ers history and the fourth highest of any quarterback who has attempted at least 20 passes in NFL history. Drew Brees’ 96.7% mark from 2019 remains the NFL record.
“He was great,” Shanahan said. “He was almost perfect…hung in there and made some big throws. A lot of times in this defense there aren’t big throws, so you kind of had to pick them apart. He was very efficient at it.” He did. And when he had his chances for the big ones, he saw it the right way and made the right shots, and our guys nailed them.”
Purdy, who has had his torn collateral ligament in his right elbow repaired nearly seven months ago, said it wasn’t until after time had passed that he realized he had missed just one throw.
As Purdy reflected on his day, he used to miss what he missed, a misfire to McCaffrey in the flat on a third-and-24 from Arizona’s 46 with 10:52 left in the third quarter.
“Honestly, I’m still angry about what I missed Christian,” Purdy said. “He broke out. He was open. I should have hit him and then we would have been within field goal range. I have to learn from this and wish I could have done it again.”
Purdy hasn’t had many of those so far this year. Heading into Sunday night’s game, Purdy leads the NFL in QBR (84.8), eighth in passing yards (1,019), second in yards per attempt (9.1), third in completion percentage (72.3%) and is one of three starting quarterbacks not to throw an interception.
Additionally, the Niners are 9-0 in Purdy’s regular-season starts, the fourth-most consecutive wins by a quarterback early in his career in the Super Bowl era.
“I think you can just go down the list of what makes a quarterback good and he checks every box,” McCaffrey said. “And then he has all the intangibles, so that would be phenomenal. He brings a type of swagger and energy to every day that is fun to be around. He is quiet, but he is very confident. He expressed that in the way he played.”