July 23, 2024
The 49ers are 4-0 for the fifth time in franchise history, with their latest win coming Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium.

SANTA CLARA — Three touchdowns by Christian McCaffrey put the undefeated 49ers’ fourth win in motion Sunday.

But 35 minutes remained. Things stalled. The Arizona Cardinals rallied. The 49ers needed more.

Sure enough, McCaffrey delivered with his fourth touchdown, and that fourth-quarter score vaulted the 49ers toward an eventual 35-16 win that secured a 4-0 record for only the fifth time in franchise history.

The 49ers end their three-game homestand with its marquee attraction next Sunday night, when the Dallas Cowboys return to the site of their divisional-playoff loss, 19-12, on Jan. 22.

McCaffrey nearly matched the franchise’s single-game touchdown record, but a potential fifth score was denied at the 2-yard line on a 2-yard run in the final minutes, and rather than give him the ball again, coach Kyle Shanahan called for a Brock Purdy sneak from inside the 1 to cap the scoring spree.

Purdy set a franchise record himself, completing 20-of-21 for 283 yards and starting 13-of-13. He remains unbeaten in regular-season starts, and he gone 211 consecutive passes without an interception.

Not to be too overlooked was the Niners’ defense keeping its third opponent under 20 points this season.

This win, the 49ers’ 14th in a row in regular-season action, should go down in franchise lore, however, as McCaffrey’s Four-Score Address, which saw him compile 106 rushing yards (20 carries, 3 TD) and 71 receiving yards (7 catches).

McCaffrey, a seventh-year veteran out of Stanford, finished one touchdown shy of the 49ers’ single-game touchdown record (Jerry Rice, 1990 vs. the Atlanta Falcons; Ricky Watters, January 1994 playoffs against the New York Gaints).

McCaffrey did break one record: this was the 13th consecutive game he’s scored, including playoffs, since entering the starting lineup after last October’s trade from the Carolina Panthers. Rice set the previous mark by scoring in all 12 games in the strike-shortened 1987 season.

Not only did McCaffrey extend his NFL rushing lead (459 yards), his seven overall touchdowns this season put him in a tie for the league’s most with Raheem Mostert, formerly of the 49ers and now on the Miami Dolphins.

Sunday’s quartet of scores by McCaffrey, in reverse order:

Touchdown No. 4: A 2-yard, uncontested dash up the middle completed a strangely necessary touchdown drive. The Cardinals had just pulled within 21-16 when the 49ers answered with a 75-yard drive, starting with a 34-yard shot from Purdy to Brandon Aiyuk. A 13-yard completion to McCaffrey got the 49ers to the 13-ayrd line, and a 7-yarder to him preceded the scoring run for a 28-16 cushion.

Touchdown No. 3: A 6-yard pass from Brock Purdy led McCaffrey to the goal line for his first touchdown reception of the season. It pushed the seemingly unsurmountable lead to 21-3, on a drive that began with completions of 11 and 42 yards to Aiyuk.

Touchdown No. 2: McCaffrey caught a backward pass from Purdy, hurdled a defender at the 15-yard line, then powered through safety Jalen Thompson at the goal line to complete the 18-yard run for a 14-0 lead, 14:14 before halftime. Key blocks on that scoring path came from Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle, Jake Brendel and Deebo Samuel. (Kittle also delivered a fourth-down conversion to keep alive that drive as the first quarter ended.)

Touchdown No. 1: The 49ers couldn’t have scripted a much better opening act. Their defense forced a three-and-out (led by Dre Greenlaw’s second-down tackle and third-down coverage), then a 7-0 lead was in place thanks to McCaffrey’s 1-yard touchdown run to cap a 62-yard opening series. That officially made for McCaffrey’s 13th consecutive game with a touchdown, a matching the scoring streaks of Dallas’ Emmitt Smith (1995) and Houston’s Arian Foster (2011-12).

McCaffrey has a rushing touchdown in each game this season.He is on pace to become more than just the 49ers’ first NFL rushing champion since Joe “The Jet” Perry in 1953 and ’54.

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The former Stanford star could become the first running back to win NFL MVP since 2012 (Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings). Quarterbacks have otherwise owned that annual honor the past 25 years except when it was seized by running backs: Terrell Davis (1998), Marshall Faulk (2000), Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) and Peterson (2012). The only 49ers to win NFL MVP honors from The Associated Press: quarterbacks John Brodie (1970), Joe Montana (1989, ’90) and Steve Young (1992).

Michael Wilson, a rookie out of Stanford, scored not only that first Cardinals touchdown (a sliding, 16-yard grab 23 seconds before halftime), but he pulled the Cardinals within 21-16 on an 8-yard touchdown catch 4:12 before the fourth quarter. Wilson’s second score saw him slide past linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who missed the previous snap after aggravating a left-ankle injury.

Pass-coverage woes enhanced those two touchdown drives by Arizona, with Ambry Thomas yielding a third-down conversion on the first one and then Marquise Brown producing a 41-yard catch on their follow-up TD drive.

Arizona tried pulling within 21-8, but Oren Burks and Talanoa Hufanga denied the Cardinals’ 2-point conversion run by James Conner. The 49ers’ shutout bid ended on a Cardinals’ field-goal drive that consumed six minutes.

The 49ers’ only other 4-0 starts came in 1952, ’84, ’90 and 2019.