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49ers offense answers the bell and withstands a Cardinals rally, 35-16

Christian McCaffrey had a banner day

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 49ers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. They forced a three-and-out against the Cardinals, thanks to a non-holding call on Dre Greenlaw.

After a 15-yard return by Ray-Ray McCloud, the offense marched down the field in four minutes on an 8-play drive covering 62 yards, before Christian McCaffrey capped the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. San Francisco quickly took a 7-0 lead.

You had the feeling that Arizona would need to answer with a score before this game got ugly sooner than later. They wound up getting a first down, which wiped away a Nick Bosa tackle for loss, after Javon Hargrave was penalized for a defensive holding. Then, Hollywood Brown sprinted past Isaiah Oliver on a 3rd & 8 for the Cardinals' second first down of the drive.

But Josh Dobbs felt the pressure on the third 3rd down of the drive, and Arizona was forced to punt.

McCaffrey would have the first two touches on the ensuing drive for 17 yards. But then, we saw Jordan Mason give CMC a rest. Mason caught a pass for 13 yards then had a run of four yards. San Francisco faced a 4th & 4, and George Kittle gained nine yards. Through one quarter, Brock Purdy was 5-for-5 for 60 yards.

Purdy got credit for McCaffrey’s next touch, which continued his perfect day:

That made it 14-0, and the route was on.

Mooney Ward was flagged for a pass interference call, which neither he nor Kyle Shanahan agreed with. That allowed Arizona to cross midfield, but a penalty put them behind the sticks, and before you knew it the down was 3rd & 20.

Arizona elected to go for it on 4th & 7. It looked like Dobbs had put the ball over the first down marker, but the referees marked him short. The Cardinals challenged, and the call was reversed.

After picking up another first down, the Cardinals faced a 3rd & 5 from the 20-yard line, but Tashaun Gipson defended a back-shoulder fade well enough to force an incompletion, and Arizona settled for a 38-yard field goal attempt. Matt Prater’s kick was good, and the score was 14-3.

Purdy remained perfect on the next drive after airing it out to Brandon Aiyuk for a 42-yard gain, then finding McCloud on the next play. Within a blink of an eye, the Niners were inside of the Cardinals 10-yard line.

A six-yard passing score to McCaffrey put the Niners ahead by three possessions, and it was 21-3, San Francisco. On three possessions, Purdy was 10-for-10 for 145 yards, with a near perfect passer rating of 152.1.

After another penalty on their next drive, Arizona had more penalties (7) than first downs (5) through a quarter and a half. But the Cardinals were scrappy, and converted a fake punt to keep their drive alive heading into the two-minute warning.

During the two-minute drill, Ambry Thomas came in at cornerback for Oliver, and Deommodore Lenoir moved into the slot. Presumably, this was because the coaching staff felt like Lenoir matched up better against the speedy Rondale Moore.

Thomas was targeted on second and long, but did not surrender a reception. Then, on 3rd & 9, after the Cardinals had the ball for about five minutes, but only made it to midfield, Thomas once again fell for a double move toward the end of the half. That put the Cardinals in scoring territory.

Thomas compounded an error on the following play after guarding a shorter route and leaving Talanoa Hufanga out to dry on the deep route. That score cut the lead to 21-10 heading into the half.

The offense continued to hum out of the half after Purdy found Aiyuk for another explosive play. But Colton McKivitz gave up a sack, and a promising drive was all of a sudden staring 3rd & 24 in the face.

To give you an idea of how efficient the 49ers offense had been up to that point, that was only the third 3rd down the offense had faced. Mitch Wishnowsky’s punt was downed at the 1-yard line by newcomer Kendall Sheffield, giving the defense a chance for a quick three-and-out.

The Cardinals, backed up in their own goal line, had plays of 7, 11, 6, and then 41 to get into San Francisco’s red zone. Arizona would have three consecutive plays of 10 yards, then found the end zone to make it a five-point game. The Cardinals decided to chase points, which was a mistake, and the score was 21-16.

The 49ers needed an answer. Aiyuk was open once again and Purdy found him 34 yards down the field. After one play, San Francisco was in Arizona’s territory. McCaffrey caught a swing pass for a gain of 13 yards, and the Niners were in the red zone. That was Christian’s fifth catch of at least 10 yards.

Once again, the 49ers answered a score with a score as McCaffrey found the end zone for a fourth time. He became the first 49er ever to score the first four touchdowns in a game. That score made it 28-16, Niners.

It was time for Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Javon Hargrave to make their presence felt. With a double-digit fourth quarter lead, it was time for the highly paid defensive line to make an impact on the game.

Arizona was backed up by a holding call on first down, but Zach Ertz caught a 12-yard pass to all but wipe away the penalty yardage. Drake Jackson showed tremendous awareness on second down by reading the screen.

On 3rd & 6, after their center went out, Stanford’s own Michael Wilson — who had already caught a pair of touchdowns — converted the third down. Dobbs had pressure in his face courtesy of Hargrave, but the coverage wasn’t tight enough.

After a Dobbs scramble that picked up a third first down on the drive, Arizona made it into 49ers territory once again. On 2nd & 10, Dobbs overthrew a wide open receiver, fortunately, for the Niners.

Hargrave made the Cardinals pay for that miss, as he picked up a much-needed sack to take Arizona out of field goal range and force a punt.

McCaffrey began the drive with gains of 6, 16, and 6. San Francisco began to impose their will on the Cardinals defense midway through the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd & 4, Purdy threw a back-shoulder fade to Aiyuk for a gain of 20 yards.

Brock was 6-for-6 on the afternoon for 148 yards went throwing to No. 11. On the ensuing third down, it was Ray-Ray McCloud’s turn. He converted, and the 49ers stayed on the field once again.

The 49ers offense deserved a lot of credit, as did Kyle Shanahan, who refused to get conservative and continued to throw the ball to pick up first downs. The Niners possessed the ball for over seven minutes up until the two-minute warning, and drove the ball 76 yards to the one-yard line. Purdy wound up sneaking it in to give San Francisco a 35-16 lead.

Purdy finished the afternoon with one incompletion. McCaffrey rushed for over 100 yards, and Aiyuk had 148 receiving yards. Purdy set the franchise record for completion percentage at 95.2 percent, which bested Steve Young in 1991 against the Lions when he went 18-for-20.

It was also the first time the 49ers had scored 30 points in the first four games of the season in franchise history.

35-16, with the Cowboys on deck.