INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers were working out their red zone plan on Thursday night when the shout came from coach Kyle Shanahan’s office.
To no one in particular, Shanahan asked a simple question: can we Christian McCaffrey, the team’s recently acquired running back, is pitching football at all? The question was initially met with silence, but moments later Shanahan received a text from tight ends coach Brian Fleury.
The text was a video from December 17, 2018, with McCaffrey throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints. Satisfied with Fleury’s response, Shanahan decided to add a McCaffrey assist to Sunday’s game plan. Victory 31-14 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Little did Shanahan know this would become the highlight piece of a historic day for McCaffrey.
Without general-purpose receiver Deebo SamuelMcCaffrey gave the Niners the ultimate in all-around performance, as he threw, ran and caught a touchdown and the Niners went 4-4 heading into their bye week.
“I think everyone knows what a good player he is, but I love how consistent and controlled he is in what he does,” Shanahan said. “He’s a very smart player and he makes a lot of plays and stuff, but it’s the consistency of how he plays his game. I feel like he was a great guy to add for us. “
After throwing for a score and catching one, his 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter made McCaffrey the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005 to throw, run and catch a touchdown in the same game. He is the fourth player – along with Tomlinson, receiver David Patten and running back Walter Payton – since the 1970 merger to complete the trifecta.
It’s the eighth straight regular season victory for the Niners over the Rams, but the first glimpse of the rivalry for McCaffrey. He fitted right in, having one hand in 183 yards from scrimmage, including 94 rushing and 55 receiving on 27 touches.
After the game, the soft-spoken McCaffrey wasn’t so concerned about his individual performance as it was his first win with the 49ers.
“It’s awesome,” McCaffrey said. “Obviously those things are really cool. I think the biggest thing is to get a win and play a second half like that too… But I’m just proud to be a 49er and it feels good. to get a win today.”
McCaffrey started the Niners’ scoring with his second career touchdown pass. Second-and-8 of Rams 34 with 12:10 left in second quarter, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo thrown at McCaffrey in the flat right. McCaffrey caught it behind the line of scrimmage and rolled to his right before looking deep down the right side for a wide Brandon Aïyuk.
McCaffrey threw a pass with enough air underneath for Aiyuk to spin multiple times and carry him for a touchdown which, coupled with Robbie GouldThe extra point tied it at 7.
“That was a point”, tight end George Kittle said. “Perfect. The pass was great, the catch was great.”
Indeed, McCaffrey’s touchdown was perhaps his most impressive play of the day. With 1:51 left in the third quarter, Garoppolo pulled back to pass from the Rams’ 9. As Garoppolo scanned the field, no one was open, so he moved into the pocket as the Niners began the scrambling drill.
McCaffrey, who was the fifth option in passing progression, went wild on the right sideline. Garoppolo lifted him up and McCaffrey jumped high in the air to catch him for the touchdown to give the Niners a 17-14 lead they wouldn’t give up.
The touchdown was the first McCaffrey scored as a Niner and put him in rare company in franchise history. McCaffrey and Emmanuel Sander (Week 14 of 2019) are the only Niners to have a passing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same game in the past 70 years.
“I went through the whole reading from left to right,” Garoppolo said. “He rode it on the pitch. It’s just being a football player… It wasn’t really how it was scripted. He just made a play.”
McCaffrey’s big day comes in his second game as the Niner and his first after a full week of practice. San Francisco dealt second-, third-, and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-round pick in 2024 to the Panthers for McCaffrey in an Oct. 20 trade.
To get up to speed quickly, McCaffrey spent long hours at the Niners facility working with assistant coaches Bobby Turner and Anthony Lynn and stealing extra time with Garoppolo whenever possible.
In addition to his touchdown hat-trick, McCaffrey also became the only player in the Super Bowl era to have at least one of each type of offensive touchdown and 30 or more passing, rushing, and receiving yards in a game.
McCaffrey’s performance also left the Niners imagining what might be when key players like Samuel and his colleagues are sidelined. Juan Jennings return from hamstring injuries.
“With all these skills (talents), there’s really no cap,” Kittle said. “We should go, we should score a lot of points.”