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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Christian McCaffrey’s happy Rams memories; Emmanuel Sanders’ lasting impact; Shanahan on why Brock Purdy is the ‘real deal’

Sep 15, 2023 at 6:54 PM--

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It's time for the next chapter in the rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, which has produced more than its share of memorable moments in recent years.

Most of those moments have belonged to the 49ers, who have won eight regular season games in a row over the Rams. The most recent chapter in the rivalry was particularly memorable for Christian McCaffrey, who ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and threw a touchdown in a 31-14 win at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on October 30, 2022 -- just ten days after he was traded to the 49ers from the Carolina Panthers.

With the 49ers returning to SoFi Stadium this weekend, McCaffrey spoke a bit on Friday about what made that game special. We'll get into that in this version of 49ers Notebook, along with some discussion about the lasting impact wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders had on the 49ers, why Kyle Shanahan thinks Brock Purdy is the "real deal," and more.

Back to the scene

Christian McCaffrey's time with the 49ers started modestly, as he rushed for 38 yards on eight carries while catching two passes for 24 yards in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on October 23, 2022 after being shipped from the Panthers to the 49ers for a package of draft picks. But the week after that, the 49ers got a full glimpse of McCaffrey's considerable talent when he became the fourth NFL player since 1970 to run for a touchdown, throw for a touchdown and pass for a touchdown in the same game, while totaling 94 yards on 18 carries with eight catches for 55 yards in the October 30 win over the Rams.

McCaffrey spoke with 49ers play-by-play man Greg Papa on KNBR about that performance, which took place when McCaffrey was still in the midst of a crash course in the 49ers' playbook.

"It was such a cool experience," McCaffrey said. "It was a blur. I remember that whole week was just studying. I was in the meeting room the whole time, trying to learn as much of the offense as possible. So I spent a lot of time with Bobby T (running backs coach Bobby Turner), with (running backs coach/assistant head coach) Anthony Lynn, just going through the plays. Really it was a complete football week. I kind of had to put all emotions aside and (focus on) what was going on, learn as much as I can."

The win was the first in a 12-game winning streak for the 49ers, who with McCaffrey's help turned their 2022 season around after falling to 3-4 on the season the week before. For McCaffrey, it gave him a chance to calm down after a hectic week and a half following the trade.

"I think when it was over -- I believe we had a bye week the next week, so it was really a great experience for me because I could kind of for the first time since I got traded take a little breath," McCaffrey told Papa. "We just won, division opponent, I had a good game. So it was definitely a good memory for my career."

Making matters worse for the Rams was the fact they were one of two finalists to land McCaffrey from the Panthers. The 49ers outbid the Rams in the end, and McCaffrey wound up giving the Rams a full dose of what they missed out on.

"I was aware after the fact," McCaffrey said. "I knew it was between L.A. and San Francisco. During that time I was just putting it in God's hands and whatever happened, happened."

McCaffrey is much more settled in the 49ers' offense now and is continuing to put up huge numbers, as demonstrated by his Week 1 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday when he ran for 152 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries. Tight end George Kittle told reporters Friday that McCaffrey's performance in the 30-7 win in Pittsburgh is an example of why he makes Kyle Shanahan's offense so difficult to stop.

"Right when we got him I was like, 'It's Madden now for Kyle. He can just make up whatever he wants to make up,'" Kittle said. "Who do you want to take away? Like last week, you had (Steelers defensive back) Minkah (Fitzpatrick) follow me around the field, and now you left Deebo (Samuel), (Brandon) Aiyuk and Christian McCaffrey one-on-one with everybody else. Congratulations. How'd that go for you guys? Whatever team wants to do that, when you have a running back who can pick up pressure and then if you don't pressure and he gets to go out and run a choice route on a linebacker, there's not many linebackers who can cover a guy like Christian McCaffrey."

The Emmanuel Sanders effect

Nearly four years after his brief stint with the San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' impact can still be felt and seen throughout the team's roster.

That's because Sanders was the one who showed what was at the time a young collection of 49ers pass catchers how a professional approaches the game of football.

Sanders and a fifth-round draft pick were traded to the 49ers from the Denver Broncos on October 22, 2019 in exchange for a third-round and a fourth-round draft pick. He wound up playing a significant role in the 49ers' Super Bowl run that season, while also teaching then-young receivers such as Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne what kind of effort to put forth on every play.

"It kind of showed our young guys 'That's what it's supposed to look like," Kittle said. "It's different when you see like Coach Shanahan pulling up an old Atlanta Falcons tape saying, 'Hey, this is how we used to block it here.' It's different seeing that every day in practice. When the young guys see that every day in practice from wide receivers, it's like 'Oh wow, light switch, that's what we're supposed to do.'"

Shanahan raved about Sanders Friday while echoing what Kittle said about the impact he had on the young players.

"Emmanuel is one of my favorite receivers of all time," Shanahan said. "I think he's one of the most underrated receivers. Emmanuel was great -- how good he was in Denver, how good he was in Pittsburgh before. We got him towards the end, but when he came in he was still at that time our best separator. He was so good, and he helped those guys a ton.

"Just not only how he was our best separator, but his conditioning. He never took a play off. It seemed he was dead. It seemed he couldn't go another play. But once that ball snapped, he was full speed. I think he showed a huge standard for that. And him being one of the smaller guys compared to the others, just weight-wise, he didn't turn anything down. And he always had good technique and stuff, and that's all you need to me as a receiver -- good technique and the mindset to do it paired with everything we do."

Sanders wound up leaving the 49ers after the season to sign with the New Orleans Saints before spending his final season with the Buffalo Bills in 2021. He retired as a member of the Broncos in September 2022. Shanahan might have wished Sanders could have spent his last seasons with the 49ers, but they made the decision to move on.

"It was one of our hardest decisions not to keep Emmanuel," Shanahan said. "It was just the age, with Kendrick Bourne and stuff and how he was coming on, so we had to make that decision, but we loved Emmanuel."

Purdy has nothing to prove... at least to Shanahan

The 49ers have now won six regular season games and two playoff games with Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback, and their lone loss in that stretch came when Purdy was knocked out of the NFC Championship game due to a torn UCL. Purdy has been a standout performer as the starting quarterback for the 49ers, helping lead the team against difficult competition in tough environments. And yet, he still has a number of doubters who think he'll eventually come back to earth.

Shanahan certainly isn't one of them. He spoke with Greg Papa this week about Purdy and what makes him consider Purdy "the real deal."

"There's six games of film on him," Shanahan said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "You've just got to watch. It wasn't that he got lucky in those games. He played at an extremely high level. And that's how he is in practice every day. We had a feeling in practice, but you never know until they get into NFL games. There was two bad injuries to our quarterbacks (last season), and he got that opportunity to get into real games. All he did was do it every single game versus very good competition. He got us into the playoffs. He did it in the spur of the moment coming in in the middle of the game. He did it in playoff games, did it at home, did it on the road. I don't know what else people want."

Purdy will have another chance to prove himself against the Rams on Sunday. Purdy has yet to face the Rams, but his experience watching former 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo go through game preparations for the Rams helped things go smoothly this week.

"I think it's huge," Shanahan said to reporters Friday. "I mean, we always have certain things we got to do versus the Rams, just with some of the problems they present. So he got to see Jimmy go through it twice and it was cool, so he knew what to expect. He did a hell of a job of it this week. Seemed like he'd been through it a hundred times, but it was his first time really getting to do it in front of everyone. But it shows that he was always doing it on the side last year when no one was asking to do it in front of everyone."

Sam Darnold's scout team contribution

While Purdy was going through game preparation with the starters this week, back-up quarterback Sam Darnold was able to do his part in helping the defense get ready for strong-armed Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Darnold brings his own level of impressive arm strength to practice, which could give a boost to the defense when the time comes to face Stafford.

"Sam, there's a reason he was the third pick in the draft," Shanahan said. "It's his throwing ability, and Stafford, like everyone knows, is as good as there is at that. And to have a guy with his arm strength and can spin it very similar to him, it helps a ton. Not many people can be close to simulating that and Sam's one of the few people who can. So it's real good for our safeties, it's good for our linebackers, good for everyone."

Luter's ETA

With second-year cornerback Samuel Womack heading to injured reserve with an MCL sprain, Shanahan spoke briefly on Friday about where things stand with rookie cornerback and fifth-round pick Darrell Luter.

Luter remains on the Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform list with a knee injury he sustained during the offseason, but Shanahan expects to have him back within a month.

"I think we're looking like around week five, week six for him, so hopefully that'll keep continuing well," Shanahan said.

Womack is expected to miss six to eight weeks, so Luter's return would be a welcome boost to the team's cornerback depth. Luter was expected to contribute as a rookie before sustaining the injury.

"I think he's doing a good job (with his recovery)," Shanahan said. "I don't see him much because he's always working on the side with our medical staff."

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