49ers hope McCaffrey boost lifts offense down stretch

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When the Carolina Panthers made the decision to trade Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco and begin a rebuild, the running back said it put a “chip” on his shoulder.

McCaffrey had a sense of urgency to prove the San Francisco 49ers right for paying a heavy price for him, and the early returns have been positive.

“I understand this is a business,” McCaffrey said. “But any time somebody gets rid of you or something happens, you take it personally. ... It’s part of the league. It happens to coaches. It happens to players. It’s just more wood on the fire.”

That extra motivation turned into a rare touchdown triple crown that sent the 49ers (4-4) into their bye week on a positive note with a 31-14 win over the division rival Los Angeles Rams.

It also gave a glimpse of how an offense that looked static at times the first half of the season could turn into a dynamic force after the bye with coach Kyle Shanahan having playmakers like McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Elijah Mitchell at his disposal.

McCaffrey adds a new twist to the offense as a pass-catching running back who is capable of doing more than just being just a check-down option.

He showed that with an acrobatic 9-yard TD catch from Jimmy Garoppolo that gave the Niners the lead for good in the second half against the Rams. McCaffrey's 400 receptions and 3,371 yards receiving are second to Alvin Kamara among all running backs since he entered the league in 2017.

“It adds an element for other things for people to worry about," Shanahan said. "It adds an element on areas to go when you think it’s a weakness in the defense. Quarterbacks can always get to check-downs as an outlet, but it gives it more percentage of that outlet being a bigger play too, so the more different things that a player can bring to the offense, the harder all the areas become to defend.”

McCaffrey showed off all his skills Sunday, rushing 18 times for 94 yards and a TD, catching eight passes for 55 yards and a score and throwing a 34-yard TD pass to Aiyuk.

He become the fourth player since the merger with a rushing, passing and receiving TD in the same game.

“I don’t think anyone ever has a perfect game,” he said. “I think any time you check the tape, you know regardless of the statistics, there’s always a couple plays here or there where you kind of beat yourself up about, so I’m sure that’ll happen again this week, but that’s the beauty of football is there’s always opportunities to get better.”

The Niners are counting on McCaffrey to make them better after sending picks in the second, third and fourth rounds in 2023 and fifth round in 2024 to Carolina in the deal.

They felt the offense needed a spark after it struggled for most of the first half of the season when the defense carried the team for stretches.

But the Niners believe they now have the chance to get back to the level they were at last season when they made a second-half run to the NFC title game with an improved offense to complement Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and the stellar defense.

Samuel is expected back from a hamstring injury after the bye. His ability to run out of the backfield as well as play wide receiver coupled with McCaffrey's ability to line up out wide as well as being a top back offer endless possibilities for the offense.

San Francisco also has Aiyuk, who is emerging as a dangerous wideout in his third season, and Kittle, who is one of the top top-way tight ends in the league, as well as the expected return of 2021 leading rusher Elijah Mitchell from injury after the bye.

That gives Shanahan confidence his team can again peak at the right time of the season.

“You just want a chance to get into the tournament and with where we stand now, I still feel we have a very good chance of that,” Shanahan said. “We have to play good football here going forward. The thing that you want most with your team is that you’re getting better as the year goes and just all around in all three phases, probably had our best game as a team (Sunday) and I think that was real good timing for it.”

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