Christian McCaffrey’s TD streak snaps despite 49ers’ late efforts

NFL coaches don’t normally experience a “nerve-racking” moment with mere minutes to go in a blowout win for their team, but Kyle Shanahan subjected himself to that level of stress Sunday — all to see if he could help Christian McCaffrey make history.

Put back on the field late in the San Francisco 49ers’ 34-3 road win against the Jaguars, McCaffrey was featured on four straight plays that started from Jacksonville’s 10-yard line. The final play was a pass attempt on fourth and goal from the 5, normally a situation in which a team with a huge lead might take a knee or at most try a field goal.

The pass fell incomplete, ending McCaffrey’s streak of 17 consecutive games, including the playoffs, with at least one rushing or receiving touchdown. The star running back will have to be satisfied with having tied Baltimore Colts great Lenny Moore for that league-record mark.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, by McCaffrey’s coaches and teammates.

“Eighteen games in a row is a big record,” Shanahan said after the game. “So if we had a chance to do that, I was going to try to do it for him. It’s a little nerve-racking. The last thing I wanted to do is get him hurt, but once we got … close, I told him to stay loose because we were going to try. I wish we could have done it for him, but I think that was a pretty big accomplishment, just to do it for 17 games straight.”

The possibility of McCaffrey getting injured while striving for an individual mark in garbage time earned Shanahan criticism from some observers.

As the sequence was unfolding, a writer for the Athletic tweeted that the effort amounted to “ridiculous stat-chasing.” He added: “If McCaffrey gets hurt, Kyle will hear about it for the rest of his life. Crazy gamble.”

Shanahan seemed to have the support of his players. Starting quarterback Brock Purdy said of seeing McCaffrey go for a touchdown in his 18th straight game, “We all wanted it for him.”

“Every guy on this team wanted it for Christian,” Purdy told reporters, “and obviously I think Christian wanted it more than anybody. He’s a humble guy and wants to win, so he puts the team first, but in that moment, everybody wanted it for Christian. So it hurts, but at the same time, he’s got a long career ahead of him, and I told him we’ll be able to do it again.”

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By the time McCaffrey failed to reel in the final pass target near the Jaguars’ end zone, Purdy had been lifted for backup Sam Darnold. Earlier in the game, Purdy helped the 49ers build a big lead by throwing touchdown passes to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel also scored on an end-around, while Purdy’s final scoring pass went to a relatively unheralded 49er, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, early in the fourth quarter.

Purdy said that he “sort of felt bad” after his 22-yard toss found Juszczyk, not McCaffrey, in the end zone.

“We came to the sideline, and guys were talking about it and I was, like, ‘Dang it.’ I was mad, sort of,” the second-year quarterback said. “To get a touchdown is the biggest thing, but then on the next drive, it was like: ‘Let’s drive for Christian and try to get him a touchdown. This is huge.’ ”

For his part, McCaffrey took a lighthearted approach to the end of his streak.

“I suck,” he told reporters with a smile. “Everyone else on the team scored except for me.”

“It means a lot to me for them to keep me in at the end of the game there and try to give me that record,” McCaffrey added. “But, hey, I’ll take a huge win.”

The victory halted another streak for San Francisco, one it was happy to see end. Coming into Sunday’s game, the 49ers had lost three straight following a 5-0 start. Now 6-3, the team is keeping pace with the Seattle Seahawks atop their division and remain among the NFC leaders. The 31-point rout also pushed San Francisco’s scoring differential to plus-109, second only in the NFL to the Baltimore Ravens (plus-113).

Having entered Week 10 as the NFL’s leading rusher, McCaffrey grew his league-topping total to 747 yards by tacking on 95 more on 16 carries. He added 47 yards on six catches, giving him 339 receiving yards on the season, but McCaffrey will have to wait at least one more week before increasing his total of 13 touchdowns in 2023. He is on pace to break his personal mark of 19 touchdowns over a single season, set in 2019 with the Carolina Panthers.

San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson holds the single-season record for rushing and receiving touchdowns at 31, set in 2006, and one year earlier he set an NFL record by scoring in 18 straight regular season games. However, he failed to reach the end zone in a playoff game after the 2004 season, preventing him from equaling a feat Moore achieved in the 1963 and 1964 seasons.

Shanahan had expressed regret in 2018 after Kittle racked up 210 receiving yards in the first half of a game against the Denver Broncos but then did not get another catch the rest of the way, leaving him five yards short of a single-game receiving record for tight ends. Kittle told reporters then that his coach apologized “multiple times” for not having been more proactive in helping Kittle reach a statistical milestone.

On Sunday, Shanahan was not about to deny another of his players a shot at history, even if it risked ruffling a feather or two on the opposing sideline. Shanahan said after the game that he told Jaguars Coach Doug Pederson, “I hope you know why we were trying to do that.”

“He was very well aware. He said they were talking about it,” Shanahan said of Pederson, “so hopefully it didn’t offend him too much.”

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