SANTA CLARA -- A running back stole the show in the 49ers-Panthers game Sunday, but it wasn't the one most expected it to be.
Tevin Coleman scored not one, not two, not three, but four touchdowns for San Francisco. Raheem Mostert added another. Meanwhile, Carolina's Christian McCaffrey, who entered the game as perhaps the NFL's most dynamic singular offensive talent so far this season, was relatively held in check.
The former Stanford star rushed 14 times for 117 yards and one touchdown at Levi's Stadium -- a very respectable 8.4-yard average against the 49ers' vaunted defense -- and also caught four passes for an additional 38 yards. McCaffrey entered the game averaging a league-leading 153.8 yards from scrimmage, and he picked up 155 on Sunday.
"We knew [McCaffrey] was going to be an issue coming into this game," 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. "Having to focus on him throughout the game, we were just flying around to the football."
"He is a super-talented player," defensive lineman Arik Armstead added. "They love to get the ball to him in various ways, so we definitely had to gang tackle and corral him. He got a few plays on us, but for the most part … you know, we got the win. It was definitely a challenge. He’s an awesome player who can make guys miss, so it was definitely a challenge for us."
Armstead wasn't mistaken -- San Francisco did permit McCaffrey to break through for a few big plays. He had a 24-yard third-down reception on a wheel-route mismatch with edge rusher Nick Bosa. McCaffery also went 40 yards untouched for a rushing score, and he almost added another, but 49ers safety Jimmie Ward was able to haul him down as the last line of defense after a 37-yard gain.
On the very next play, Bosa snagged his first career interception, flipping the field and snuffing out any lingering hope that Carolina had for a comeback. Ward's touchdown-saving tackle didn't go unnoticed by cornerback Richard Sherman.
"When [McCaffrey] broke out -- he’s a good player, he’s going to get his runs -- Jimmie was able to get him down and keep points off the board," Sherman said after the 51-13 win. "And that’s what you appreciate about an ‘eraser.’ He’s not going to get enough credit for that. It’s not going to show up as a huge stat in the stat sheet, but he’s a guy who you appreciate."
Ward helped erase one of San Francisco's big errors, and really, there wasn't a whole lot to complain about from a 49ers perspective, as they put together their most complete game yet and improved to 7-0 on the season.
Still, Sherman knows they still have plenty to fix.
"The mistakes," he responded when asked what San Francisco will focus on moving forward. "Like, we gave up way too many explosive plays. It was dirty, it was nasty. McCaffrey skated out for the touchdown -- that wasn’t explosive, that was a sloppy play that we had. We could have got that stop. The play where he had the long run where Jimmie [Ward] had to … those are mistakes. Those are the things you focus on. You focus on correcting mistakes. I’m sure Jimmy [Garoppolo] will focus on the [interception].
"You don’t focus on the things you did well because the things you did well will make you complacent," Sherman continued. "You focus on the things you didn’t do well, the things that you can correct, because -- sure, it’s a huge win, everybody’s happy. But it could have been cleaner, we could have been more precise. We can do better."
The 49ers are 7-0, haven't allowed a passing touchdown in over a month and just had their first 50-point game since 2003.
And yet, they can do better. Yikes.