Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals opened the game with a great game script. Kenyan Drake had a long run to put Arizona in 49ers’ territory. Dee Ford sacked Kyler Murray, but the play was negated after a horse-collar penalty was called. The Cardinals scored on a six-play, 71-yard drive.
The Niners’ opening possession didn’t go as well. George Kittle hit his knee on a Cardinals defender and had to go to the medical tent. A false start by Deebo Samuel on third down made it 3rd & 12, and the 49ers were forced to punt.
On the following possession, the Cardinals had another penalty that gifted them a first down, but a Dee Ford sack ended the drive. The 49ers couldn’t take advantage of a 24-yard punt by Arizona and had to punt it back to the Cardinals. Mitch Wishnowsky pinned Arizona inside their 10-yard line.
The offense found their groove on the following possession that was capped off by a monster stiff arm from Kittle. That tied it up 7-7. From there, the Niners started to look like the Niners. Dre Greenlaw picked up his first sack, and Fred Warner should have had an interception returned for a touchdown but dropped it.
Shanahan must have seen something because, on the following drive, we saw a heavy dose of Emmanuel Sanders. Kendrick Bourne capped off a seven-play, 76 yards, drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass. Early on, Jimmy Garoppolo’s ball placement and location were great. He allowed the receivers to make plays after the catch by hitting them in stride. That score made it 14-7 San Francisco.
Warner dropped that interception, but he is playing at an incredible level this season. Yes, I know what his PFF coverage grades are. Yes, they are wrong. His instincts allow him to play faster than he is, and Warner is already plenty fast.
Sanders scored on the following possession to make it 21-7. Deebo Samuel should have caught a touchdown pass, but the ball hit him in a bad spot, his numbers. The offense was able to overcome the drop and a penalty. That’s big because San Francisco has not been a good red zone team this season. They came into the contest 27th in the NFL. Through halftime, the 49ers scored on six of their last seven red-zone possessions. That’s huge.
The Cardinals came out of the half with tempo, and the 49ers had no response. They were running all over the place, not even set half the time, and Arizona took advantage. An 83-yard drive that only took 2:41 off the clock made it 21-14, San Francisco.
On the next drive, the 49ers were on the move again. A big gain from Kittle and Sanders had the Niners knocking on the Cardinal’s red zone again. The throw to Sanders was an absolute dime. I don’t know if they showed the throw on the replay, but Garoppolo threw it to Sanders about five yards before Sanders made his cut. Those two have built a rapport that looks like it can carry this offense.
Oh, hey, Dante Pettis found the end zone. Pettis got open on a deep corner route, then decided to go Michael Jackson “thriller” when he scored.
The Cardinals drove the field and got into San Francisco’s red zone, but couldn’t punch it in. A field goal made the score 28-17. Kwon Alexander left the game with a chest injury. He was out for the drive Arizona made a field goal, and it showed. We’ll have updates on Alexander’s injury from Shanahan shortly after the game. There was some speculation in the press box that Alexander’s injury is serious. I’m not going to speculate. We’ll wait and get the news from the horse’s mouth.
I didn’t agree with Kingsbury’s decision to kick a field goal down 11. Yes, he needed 13 yards on fourth down. Yes, his defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed. The 49ers converted one first down and took four minutes off the clock before punting it back to Arizona.
The results worked, but the process was flawed. Arizona scored on two plays and went 90 yards. The probability of that happening was incredibly slim. San Francisco got the ball back after the Cardinals converted a two-point conversion and needed a couple of first downs to ice the game. Garoppolo hit Sanders on a critical 3rd & 11, where the quarterback held the ball until the last possible minute. The throw was complete, and that helped the offense continue to bleed the continue.
Tevin Coleman took a third-down run around the edge and converted another first down. The Cardinals challenged the play, but the ruling on the field stood, and Arizona lost another timeout. After a false start, it was 3rd & 11, but Jimmy G made a play to end the game. Fitting.
This was the most impressive game that I’ve seen Garoppolo ever play. What a day. He finished 28-37, 317 yards, and four touchdowns.