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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Once a Washington standout, Trent Williams now sees himself as a Niner; Christian McCaffrey’s Milestone; Deebo Samuel’s unique MVP vote

Dec 31, 2023 at 5:36 PM--

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Sunday's game against the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland was a triumphant one for the San Francisco 49ers, who came away with a 27-10 win as well as an unexpected clinching of the number one overall seed in the NFC Playoffs.

There was a lot to unpack from the win after the game, much of which we've already discussed at 49ers Webzone, including the team's thoughts on clinching and the news of running back Christian McCaffrey dealing with a sore calf that sent him to the sidelines during the game. We're diving into more postgame coverage in this version of 49ers Notebook -- as well as a pregame tidbit too.

Let's get into it, starting with the thoughts of 49ers left tackle Trent Williams on his present and future after facing his former team on the road for the first time.

The return of the Silverback

Sunday's game was a homecoming of sorts for San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams, who returned to the site of his early NFL playing days for the first time since being traded to the 49ers in 2020.

Williams established himself as one of the NFL's elite left tackles during his days with Washington, who selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. But things went south between Williams and his former team in 2019 when after undergoing the surgical removal of a cancerous growth on his head he asked to be traded or released. A report from ESPN said there were conflicting statements as to why, with Williams saying he was disappointed over the team's medical approach to his cancerous growth while Washington claimed he was upset over his contract. But, after not playing in 2019 following a failed physical, Williams finally was moved to the 49ers in April of 2020 in exchange for a third- and a fifth-round draft pick.

Since then, Williams has been consistently elite while solidifying his status as a likely future first-ballot Hall of Famer. There was some uncertainty over what the 49ers were getting when they traded for Williams due to the fact he missed a season, but he quickly put those concerns to rest.

"When they dealt me away for nothing, I still had a lot left in the tank," Williams said after the 49ers' 27-10 win at Washington on Sunday. "I think maybe my layoff, battling cancer and stuff, I think a lot of people would think nobody could come back normal, especially at that age. I bet on myself obviously to go to a new organization, but it's all part of God's plan. I'm really thankful for my nine years, ten years here, and I think it just made me a better professional overall going to my next chapter."

Sunday's return proved to be particularly memorable for Williams, who not only was part of a win over his former team but was able to experience something he hasn't before -- clinching a number one playoff seed. The 49ers weren't expected to clinch coming into the day, but an unexpected loss to the Arizona Cardinals by the Philadelphia Eagles sent Williams and the 49ers into a celebration they hadn't been planning. Before then, it was business as usual for Williams, despite his connection to the home team.

"It all came full circle," Williams said. "I'm really blessed to come back here and actually clinch a number one seed and do something I've never done in my career before. I'm super grateful for that. It was good seeing familiar faces, but at the end of the day, I wish those guys nothing but the best. I looked at it as another game. Just a game where I knew a lot of people on the sideline."

Williams is still playing at an elite level, but at age 35, the clock is ticking on his NFL career. But for however long he remains in the NFL, whether it's a few more games or a few more years, it's safe to say Williams can be expected to stay with the 49ers. Williams was asked about the possibility of returning to Washington someday to finish his career and responded by making it clear he prefers the place he's in now.

"No, I think I'm a 49er right now," Williams said. "I love the ownership here. I love the organization. I could never speak for the future. I'm taking it one day at a time. But they definitely treat me as their own here, so I really can't see going anywhere else."

A less emotional return

Williams isn't the only member of the 49ers who spent time in Washington before the relationship went sour. The other is head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator in Washington from 2010 to 2013 while his father Mike was the head coach and executive vice president. The Shanahans' time in Washington eventually led to a long-running feud with former Washington team owner Daniel Snyder, but any feelings Kyle may have had on that issue weren't on his mind that much on Sunday, due in part to Snyder no longer being with the franchise.

"No, not at all," Shanahan said after the win. "I used to have those, but it's a totally different place here now and different people and nothing's personal here anymore. The personal stuff is gone."

Williams said he and Shanahan spoke briefly about returning to Washington in the days leading up to the game, but it wasn't exactly new territory to Shanahan, who was with the 49ers when they played in Washington in 2019.

"I've been gone so long," Williams said. "Some of the emotions kind of fizzled out. We did speak about it. I did feel a little bit but honestly it was like just another game."

MVP-caliber season closes with a milestone

Before heading to the sidelines Sunday due to his calf issue, Christian McCaffrey was well on his way to putting up another big day for the 49ers with 64 yards on 14 carries and 27 yards on four catches. But even though he didn't finish the game, McCaffrey put up enough numbers to surpass 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in a single season for the second time in his career.

McCaffrey wasn't aware of the feat until asked about it by a reporter following the game.

"Did I get it? Oh that's awesome," McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey was happy to have reached that number, but he's not as focused on that as he is on what's ahead.

"It means a lot," McCaffrey said. "Obviously we've got one thing in mind though as a team and individuals, and that's to continue getting better, play one game at a time, to be there at the end and have a chance."

With MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens throwing for five touchdowns in a 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, McCaffrey may now be a long shot to win the MVP, especially given the likelihood he may rest for the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams next week. He remained humble when asked about the subject after Sunday's game, shifting credit to his teammates for the success he had in 2023.

"On a team like this, it feels weird even being in a conversation of any individual awards because sometimes it feels like there's so many guys that are deserving of it," McCaffrey said. "None of us are going to have the success that we have without everyone in the room, and that's what makes it special. So I'm just happy to be part of this unit."

McCaffrey's injury leads to an unexpected standout

It's been a disappointing season for backup running back Elijah Mitchell, but on Sunday he got the chance to remind everyone why he was the lead back in San Francisco before McCaffrey arrived.

Mitchell had just 45 carries on the season heading into Sunday and was coming off a knee injury that kept him sidelined since December 3. But he stepped up when called upon against the Commanders, turning in 17 carries for 80 yards and his first touchdown of the season.

"I thought Elijah did a great job," Shanahan said Sunday. "When Elijah's healthy, I think he's as good as anybody. He's been working to come back. He was close to last week and had a real good week this week. He was ready for the moment, and then when Christian went down, he just came and took over. So I thought he did a real good job."

McCaffrey was particularly appreciative of Mitchell, who helped the offense not miss a beat with McCaffrey out of the game.

"I thought he was awesome. He's an unbelievable back," McCaffrey said. "Him and Mase (backup running back Jordan Mason), whenever they get in there, we pick up right where we left off."

Still voting for Brock

49ers quarterback Brock Purdy was the MVP frontrunner before throwing four interceptions in a loss to the Ravens last Monday. He may not be first in the hearts of MVP voters anymore, but he still is with wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Samuel let the world know through his pregame outfit that Purdy is his choice for MVP. Samuel showed up to FedEx Field wearing a Purdy MVP vest, which was custom-made by fullback Kyle Juszczyk's wife Kristin.

Purdy rebounded from his four-interception outing by throwing for 230 yards on 22-of-28 passing with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also got a vote from McCaffrey after the game.

"Brock's Brock," McCaffrey said. "He's the MVP of the league."

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