Christian McCaffrey departs grandest stage with the biggest regret

It was so near yet so far for Christian McCaffrey.

Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Former Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey left the grandest stage of all with one huge regret after falling at the final hurdle.

Some Carolina Panthers fans were rooting for Christian McCaffrey to get an elusive Super Bowl ring. Others couldn't have cared less either way. As it turned out, the San Francisco 49ers fell at the final hurdle following an overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

McCaffrey - who enjoyed a phenomenal campaign to lead the league in rushing and secure the AP Offensive Player of the Year - was far from the Niners' biggest problem. The former first-round pick notched 160 all-purpose yards and one touchdown from 30 combined touches. Sadly, it wasn't enough.

Christian McCaffrey's turnover frustration was evident

Despite the strong numbers, McCaffrey left the game with one big regret. This centered on his early fumble that was recovered by the Chiefs. Something the player would like to have back based on his post-game comments via Pro Football Talk.

"Just can’t put the ball on the ground. It hurts deep. It’s something that you dream about as a kid. You’ve worked so hard for all year and come up short. I think you just have to go through all the emotions as they come, but each day just chip away getting back to normal. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. It’s still fresh and it still sucks."

Christian McCaffrey via PFT

Perhaps McCaffrey is being a little too hard on himself. The player is a perfectionist, so giving away a turnover with the entire NFL world watching and with so much at stake wasn't part of the plan. Things were still raw in the immediate aftermath of such a crushing loss. Upon further reflection, the one-time Stanford college standout can look back on his efforts with an enormous sense of pride.

McCaffrey has gained a significant amount of personal accolades during his time with the Panthers and since he was traded to San Francisco. This is no doubt pleasing, but it doesn't detract from the more pressing need to get a Super Bowl win for his growing collection.

Everything was in place for the Niners to win it all this season. Their roster was stacked across the board. And yet, it wasn't enough to dethrone Patrick Mahomes when push came to shove.

While the Niners are renowned for being one of the league's best-run franchises, their window could be closing soon. They've got one more season before Brock Purdy's seventh-round rookie contract gets more expensive. This would complicate matters in terms of keeping their top stars around.

McCaffrey is the beating heart of San Francisco's offense - as he was in Carolina. The injury problems that blighted him throughout his final seasons with the Panthers are a thing of the past. He shows no signs of slowing down, which indicates another hugely productive campaign is in the offing next time around.

The ambition remains the same. McCaffrey wants a ring. He wants to help one of the league's storied organizations return to the mountaintop. Coming this close and failing will only motivate him further to achieve this objective.

With that being said, one has to wonder if it doesn't happen during the 2024 campaign, will it ever happen for McCaffrey? Time will tell on that one.