Eight in a row. The San Francisco 49ers remain undefeated after surviving the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday. In what many expected to be a one-sided affair, the 49ers’ divisional opponents proved up to the challenge, with the 28-25 result coming down to the final drive. The Cardinals had beaten the 49ers in eight consecutive games before Thursday, so a victory for Kyle Shanahan’s team meant more than your typical NFC West scrap.
Here are our takeaways from San Francisco’s win over the Cardinals:
Here lies a narrative
Jimmy Garoppolo left no doubt as to his abilities to put a game on his back if needed. The 49ers’ “game manager” lit up Arizona for 317 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 136.9 quarterback rating. Three of Garoppolo’s four scores were on third down and another on fourth down. He completed 28 of 37 passes (75.7%), leading the offense to 11 of 17 third downs (64%), with the league average in the neighborhood of 40%. Garoppolo authored several highlights plays throughout the night, including a perfectly timed throw to Emmanuel Sanders along the left sideline in the second half to convert on third down. When the 49ers’ formidable rushing attack sputtered, Garoppolo was there to pick up the slack in an impressive way.
Kittle keeps impressing
One the first play of the game, the 49ers got their worst scare of Halloween night. George Kittle was moving left in the backfield when Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones’ helmet collided with Kittle’s left knee, forcing the 49ers tight end to the ground and the sideline. Kittle returned to the game shortly after despite being in obvious pain. His fortitude energized the 49ers’ offense, catching a 30-yard touchdown from Jimmy Garoppolo in which he tossed Cardinals defender Budda Baker to the ground. Baker had gotten the better of Kittle during previous drives. Kittle finished with six receptions for 79 yards and the score in a performance that showcased the tight end’s grit as much as his talent.
One of the league’s elite defenses looked oddly vulnerable on Thursday. The Cardinals opened the game with a six-play, 71-yard drive in which running back Kenyan Drake had his way with the 49ers’ defense, finishing with a four-yard touchdown. Cornerback Richard Sherman was understandably upset after the game, telling the media that the 49ers’ defensive performance against the Cardinals was far from championship quality. Robert Saleh’s side of the ball allowed 357 yards of total offense to Arizona, including an 88-yard touchdown and two-point conversion to pull the Cardinals within a field goal in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Kyler Murray completed 17 of 24 passes (70.8%) for 241 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals offense averaged 6.7 yards per carry on the ground. It was far from what we expect from the 49ers defense, albeit on a short week.
The Sanders Show
John Lynch has to be pleased with his trade deadline acquisition through two games. The 49ers’ general manager traded third- and fourth-round picks to the Denver Broncos for veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round pick on October 22nd. So far, it’s paid off in spades. Sanders was outstanding against the Cardinals on Thursday, routinely besting standout cornerback Patrick Peterson. Sanders caught seven of nine targets for 112 yards and a touchdown, showcasing an already budding connection between him and Garoppolo. It was Sanders’ second touchdown in as many games with the 49ers. It’s easy to wonder how yesterday’s game would’ve gone without Sanders making plays.
Injury assault continues
The 49ers have been plagued by the injury bug again this season, and it made an appearance again on Thursday. Left tackle Joe Staley (fibula), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (knee), fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee), and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot) are all starters expected to make their return next week against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. The 49ers lost starting linebacker Kwon Alexander to a chest injury against the Cardinals. The severity of the injury is yet to be determined, but Alexander immediately being ruled out after leaving the field is cause for concern. Kittle played through his knee injury but missed the final series with the game on the line. Shanahan said both Alexander and Kittle are schedule for MRIs on Friday. Until then, we collectively hold our breath.