Although the San Francisco 49ers finished the 2022 season just short of their ultimate goal, the team can look back at a movie-worthy story of a season. Even when faced with improbable adversity, the 49ers finished the year with 13-wins in the regular season, six AP All-Pro honors, seven Pro Bowl players and five NFL Honors finalists.
"It's a hell of a team," tight end George Kittle said. "We'll definitely come back. We have a great foundation with this team and a great locker room, so it's just on to the next one."
For this week's Four Downs, 49ers team reporter Lindsey Pallares and 49ers Spanish insider Jesús Zárate have joined me to share our favorite memories from the 2022 season:
1st Down: Who is Your 2022 Season MVP?
The 49ers October trade for McCaffrey completely changed the course of the season for San Francisco, reigniting an offense that was slow to start the year. I mentioned this several times over the course of the year—it's no coincidence that the 49ers 12-game win streak began when McCaffrey had full command of the playbook. Beginning in Week 8, when McCaffrey was fully unleashed, San Francisco's offense was in high gear, putting up 30-or-more points in seven of their last ten games. His impact on the field was almost immediate, and the numbers he put up this year were nothing short of impressive. In a San Francisco uniform, McCaffrey had 159 carries for 746 yards and six rushing touchdowns and added another 52 catches for 464 yards and four receiving touchdowns. He also had a passing touchdown against the Rams. He was exactly the player John Lynch and Co. envisioned he would be and more.
There are several really good options for 2022 MVP, but I will pick Bosa because his season was very dominant from start to finish. He led the league in sacks with 18.5, registered 51 tackles and also had more quarterback hits than everyone else in the NFL with 48. Bosa won the 2022 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the 2022 PFWA Defensive Player of the Year, was selected to his third-career Pro Bowl and was a First-Team AP All-Pro for the first time in his career. Bosa had a sensational season and was a constant force in the trenches for the 49ers in 2022.
Warner has made a huge impact to the 49ers defense since he was drafted in 2018, and this year he shined. The middle linebacker has taken on the responsibility of being San Francisco's defensive quarterback and has performed at an elite level, leading the 49ers defense to a No. 1 overall ranking and earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors for his efforts. As a third-year team captain, Warner's voice has taken command of the team and his leadership has become an integral part of the 49ers success – hyping his teammates up in pregame speeches and leading by example on the field. Warner closed out the 2022 season with a total of 130 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, one interception, 10 passes defended and one forced fumble.
2nd Down: Most Memorable Moment of the Season?
@LindseyLares: Clinching the NFC West
There were so many milestone moments during the 2022 season, but if I had to pick my favorite it would be clinching the NFC West on the road. Every team hopes to be in a position to play past 18 weeks and watching the 49ers ensure that for themselves in Week 15 was amazing to watch. The fact that clinching the division came in the hostile territory of Lumen Field, against a longtime NFC West rival and in Brock Purdy's first-career road start added to the drama of it all and it all culminated into one big celebration after the fact. As the players walked off the field postgame, you saw the excitement on their faces and got to witness some funny one-liners on the way to their locker room.
@JesusZarate87: Winning in Estadio Azteca
Overall, 2022 had many great memories for the 49ers, but the game played in Mexico City is a moment that I will remember forever. As a Mexican, it was very cool for me to watch the 49ers play in Mexico at a legendary stadium like Estadio Azteca. Everything was simply perfect, they defeated the Arizona Cardinals 38-10, the stadium was filled with mostly 49ers fans and the Faithful in Mexico had a chance to show all the love they have for the team over there. Also, several 49ers players and coaches mentioned that it was a great experience for them, comparing it to a playoff game atmosphere when they came out of the tunnel at Estadio Azteca. Seeing all those 49ers fans at the hotel when the team arrived was also very exciting.
@BriMcDonaldTV: Week 8 vs. Los Angeles Rams
It's easily seen on TV and players and coaches often talk about how well the Faithful travel to support the 49ers in away games. In Week 8, I was lucky to see it in person as the red and gold took over SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. I was amazed to see all the 49ers fans fill the stands and we were all in for a treat as we got to witness San Francisco's newest team member Christian McCaffrey show off his triple-threat skills when running, passing and receiving a touchdown against division rivals. That game sparked a wild 12-game win streak filled with perseverance that the team and fanbase will always hold close to its hearts.
3rd Down: Biggest Surprise of the Season?
The players and coaches have reiterated that Purdy's competitive play was absolutely no surprise to them, but for those of us that didn't get to see practice on a day-to-day basis, the rookie quarterback was the most pleasant surprise of 2022. Since Week 13 when Purdy stepped in, it felt like you were watching history unfold with each passing game because he just kept leading the team to victory. Historically, the expectations for the player taken last in the NFL Draft are low, and it's been so great for Purdy to break so many records during the 49ers playoff run. He's now one of just three rookie starting quarterbacks to win multiple playoff games. The other two were Mark Sanchez in 2009 and Joe Flacco in 2008. Purdy is also just the fifth rookie quarterback to start in a Conference Championship Game and is fifth all time (amongst quarterbacks) in terms of longest win streak (7 games) to begin a career since 1950.
Hufanga had a remarkable season in 2022. It was his breakout year and remember this was only his second season in the NFL. He started in all of the 17 games he appeared as well as in the three he played in the postseason. So, to me, he has to be in the conversation for biggest surprise of the season. Don't forget, he was a fifth round pick out of USC in 2021. Hufanga registered four interceptions, 97 total tackles, three QB hits, two sacks and five tackles for a loss during the regular season in 2022. That earned the sophomore safety his first trip to the Pro Bowl and, also for the first time in his career, he was named AP First-Team All-Pro. Hufanga proves again the 49ers know how to find diamonds in the late rounds of the draft.
@BriMcDonaldTV: The midseason trade for Christian McCaffrey
Everyone remembers exactly where they were when they first heard the news that the All-Pro running back was coming to San Francisco. Being such a dynamic and physical player, McCaffrey fit right in with head coach Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme and his humble mindset and positive attitude perfectly fit the 49ers locker room. The outside factors, such as having a family connection with the Shanahan's and already being a local star with his collegiate success at Stanford University, made the Faithful quick to love the newest RB.
4th Down: What Excites You About 2023?
@LindseyLares: While no NFL roster is immune to turnover year-to-year, it's exciting to see that most of the core group on offense is expected to return next season. There are exceptions, of course, with center Jake Brendel, wide receiver Jauan Jennings, tackle Mike McGlinchey, swing offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo entering free agency in roughly a month, but a lot of the big playmakers are going to be around for a minute. It will be exciting to see CMC kick things into an even higher gear now that he's got 14 games with the 49ers under his belt. The same goes for Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, who are both working their way back from injuries, but confidence in them is high, and competition tends to bring out the best in elite athletes. There is so much talent returning, and the team closed out the 2022 season hungry, so for a lot of them, the 2023 campaign has already started.
@JesusZarate87: The 49ers will still be a contender in 2023 with all the stars they will continue to have on both sides of the football. That's the most exciting thing about 2023. On offense, you find guys like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Trent Williams to name just a few and that's a very solid group of players to keep building a team around with the guys they can acquire in free agency and the draft. On defense, they have Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Dre Greenlaw, an All-Pro young safety like Talanoa Hufanga and a very good corner like Charvarius Ward, so the No. 1 defense in football will still look very scary for opponents in 2023. When you have stars all over the field you have to be excited every year about the chance to compete really well with the best in the NFL.
@BriMcDonaldTV: The 49ers have reached the NFC Championship Game three times out of the last four years, coming so close to winning it all. With so much experience in those big postseason games and a hunger to cross the ultimate finish line, I'm excited to see if the 2023 season will be the year that San Francisco will reach their ultimate goal.
Look back at some of 49ers photographer Michael Zagaris' best photos from the 2022 NFL season.