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SANTA CLARA — If Nick Bosa wins the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, a fourth-quarter play on Christmas Eve is all the evidence voters need.

“That’s a dream,” Bosa said after Saturday’s 37-20 win. “I’ve played this game since I was 7 and played D-line the entire way through and I’ve watched guys throughout the years and wanted to be in that position. I finally feel I’m living out that dream.”

The 49ers’ eighth straight victory wasn’t looking like a lock until Bosa delivered a fumble-forcing sack with 14 minutes to go. It was Bosa’s second sack of the game, it raised his NFL-leading total to 17 1/2 on the season and it created a fumble that Jordan Willis recovered at the Washington Commanders’ 11-yard line.

“To have Nick on defense is great,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We have so many players out there, but when you have a pass rusher as good as Nick, those are the guys that give you the best way to change a game.”

San Francisco 49ers' Nick Bosa (97) sacks Washington Commanders' Carson Wentz (11) during the second half at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa (97) sacks Washington Commanders’ Carson Wentz (11) during the second half at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

The 49ers (11-4) converted that takeaway into just a field goal, but Bosa’s play sent an emphatic message that this playoff run remains fueled by the NFL’s most suffocating defense.

“It’s a big-time play by a big-time player in the moment we needed it,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “It’s insane the level he’s playing at and it’s a big reason our defense is playing the way it is.”

The 49ers’ playoff picture has them still as the NFC’s No. 3 seed, seeing how the Minnesota Vikings (12-3) pulled out a 27-24 home win over the New York Giants (8-6-1) on a 61-yard field goal as time expired. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) saw their grip on the top seed loosen with a 40-34 loss at the Dallas Cowboys (11-4).

Next up for the NFC West-champion 49ers is their debut in Las Vegas against the Raiders on New Year’s Day, then it’s back home to close the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.

In terms of sack records, Bosa said he is gunning more for the 49ers’ record of 19 1/2 (Aldon Smith, 2012) than the NFL mark of 22 1/2. He would be the third 49ers player to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, following Deion Sanders (1994) and Dana Stubblefield (1997).

“I think today secured his defensive MVP. I don’t see how it doesn’t,” George Kittle said. “Look at what he does every Sunday compared to everyone else around the league, whether it’s offense or defense. I don’t know why he’s not in the MVP conversation, too.

San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle (85) celebrates against the Washington Commanders during the second half at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle (85) celebrates against the Washington Commanders during the second half at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

“He’s the most talented player on the field, besides Trent Williams, but I don’t think they’ll give the MVP to an offensive lineman,” Kittle added. “Every single day he’s an absolute monster. All those sacks, they’re earned and deserved. He’s fantastic and he’s never not good.”

Explosive plays on offense got the 49ers their touchdowns, starting with Ray-Ray McCloud’s 71-yard end-around run in the first half, and followed by Kittle’s touchdowns on 34- and 33-yard receptions in the third quarter. Robbie Gould went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter to pad the lead.

Kittle, coming off a two-touchdown effort in last game’s division-clinching win at Seattle, finished with 120 yards on six catches, the final of which was a 10-yard conversion on fourth down to set up Christian McCaffrey’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:13 left.

Those were easily enough points to outlast the playoff-contending Commanders (7-7-1). Even after Carson Wentz threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass with 5:25 left, Bosa tackled Wentz on an ensuing two-point conversion attempt; it didn’t qualify as a sack because it was not a play from scrimmage.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy passes in the third quarter against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy passes in the third quarter against the Washington Commanders at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Brock Purdy improved to 3-0 as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, becoming the first San Francisco rookie to win his first three starts. He completed 15-of-22 passes for 234 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception (that Jauan Jennings juggled into the air). The 49ers’ run game struggled to find success with McCaffrey (15 carries, 46 yards) and Ty Davis-Price, whose nine carries (30 yards) were his first in two months; Jordan Mason (hamstring) was restricted to special teams duty.

Bosa wasn’t the only defensive star, of course.

In the first half, the 49ers made a goal-line stand, and, 5:43 before the fourth quarter, they stopped Heinicke’s fourth-and-1 sneak from the Commanders’ 34-yard line. It was a defend-every-blade-of-grass mentality that linebacker Dre Greenlaw described a month ago when the 49ers’ goal-line stands (in that same south end zone) preserved a 13-0 shutout of the Saints on Nov. 27.

This goal-line stand kept the score 0-0 five minutes into the second quarter and ended a 17-play, 10-minute march by the Commanders. Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner and Akeem Spence came through with run stops on third- and fourth down from the 1. Warner had a season-high 13 tackles.

San Francisco 49ers' Ray-Ray McCloud (3) scores on a 71-yard touchdown run against the Washington Commanders in the second quarter at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49ers’ Ray-Ray McCloud (3) scores on a 71-yard touchdown run against the Washington Commanders in the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

The 49ers converted their defense’s goal-line stand into an ensuing 99-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead, the score coming on McCloud’s long touchdown run, in a role replacing the injured Deebo Samuel. Willie Snead IV and Kittle provided key blocks to clear a lane for McCloud’s first touchdown run this season — and the longest by a 49er since Raheem Mostert’s 80-yard scoring spring in Week 2 of 2020.

The 49ers quickly snapped a 7-7 halftime tie when Kittle beat teammate McCloud to Brock Purdy’s 34-yard scoring strike down the middle, 4 1/2 minutes into the second half.

Shanahan said McCloud was the intended target for that play.

“Kittle was supposed to go across the field, and Ray-Ray was running a post (route),” the coach said. “The middle of the field was wide open and Kittle’s natural reaction is to get to the wide-open spot. That’s why Brock hesitated a bit.”

McCloud added: “I saw him a little early, so I was, ‘Damn George, where you going?’ I wasn’t going to outjump him to get it and the ball is all over the place. I’m a team-first guy.”

That drive opened with 13-yard completions to Brandon Aiyuk and Kittle, then, after three runs from McCaffrey and one by Davis-Price, Purdy went to the air and spied Kittle (and McCloud) zipping past Washington’s safeties.

San Francisco 49ers' Christian McCaffreys rushes in the fourth quarter against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49ers’ Christian McCaffreys rushes in the fourth quarter against the Washington Commanders at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Instant analysis of 49ers’ eighth straight win — 37-20 over Washington Commanders

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