The final score says this game wasn’t particularly close, and even though the Arizona Cardinals got within five points late in the third quarter, it felt like the San Francisco 49ers never lost control of the game.
Maybe that’s an indictment of how good the 49ers are, beating Arizona 35-16 in its fourth-consecutive game with at least 30 points to open the season. The win moved the 49ers to 4-0, marking the second time it opened a season with four straight wins under Kyle Shanahan.
Christian McCaffrey led the way with a stat sheet-stuffing performance - something that’s become commonplace since the 49ers acquired him - and was easily the biggest winner coming out of Sunday:
Winner: RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey on the ground finished with 60 percent of the 49ers scoring and slightly more than a quarter of its total yards.
McCaffrey split his 20 attempts for 106 rushing yards fifty-fifty with 53 yards on ten first-half attempts and 53 yards on ten second-half rushes, but his scores were the game’s story. His first score came on a one-yard run in the first quarter, but his second score was his highlight play.
The running back took a backward swing pass from Brock Purdy and hurdled Kei’Trel Clark en route to an 18-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. McCaffrey would score a third rushing touchdown in the third quarter, capping off his first game with the 49ers with multiple rushing touchdowns.
Winner: WR Christian McCaffrey
If McCaffrey’s rushing numbers are added to his receiving numbers, he accounted for 80 percent of the 49ers scoring and just about 45 percent of its total offense.
Only Brandon Aiyuk - we will talk about him in a bit - finished with more receiving yards, but McCaffrey led the team with seven receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. His four touchdowns set a new single-game-high for total touchdowns after three different instances of scoring three touchdowns with Carolina.
Sunday marked the fourth game of the season McCaffrey has finished with at least 115 scrimmage yards and a touchdown, becoming the sixth player in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
Winner: QB Brock Purdy
We can be honest with ourselves: Purdy had a shaky six quarters against the Rams and Giants. He had several overthrows and a few near interceptions, but he turned a corner in the second half last Thursday en route to 310 passing yards against New York.
Purdy carried that momentum into Sunday, throwing one incomplete pass on 21 attempts for 283 yards with a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak - a play that Purdy has been successful running this year.
It wasn’t just dinks and dumps for Purdy as he completed four passes 15 yards or more downfield, a pair of deep shot completions to Brandon Aiyuk. Purdy’s 42-yard completion to Aiyuk in the second quarter traveled 46.8 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the quarterback’s longest completed pass by air distance of his career.
It’s a promising sight with Purdy in good form heading into a more challenging test against Dallas next Sunday night.
Winner: Breaking records
The 49ers set a couple of franchise records on Sunday, starting with McCaffrey’s first rushing of the game. With the first-quarter touchdown, McCaffrey has scored a touchdown in 13 consecutive games, surpassing Jerry Rice’s franchise record.
It took McCaffrey 14 games with the 49ers to break a record of Rice’s that takes 13 games to break, to give McCaffrey’s insane start in San Francisco into perspective.
Purdy also broke a 49ers record with his 20-for-21 day. His 95.2 completion percentage on Sunday broke Steve Young’s 1991 record when he completed 18-of-20 passes - 90 percent - against Detroit. Purdy’s lone incompletion came at 10:54 in the third quarter on a third-and-24 pass attempt to McCaffrey after completing his first 13 passes.
The 49ers can tie another record next week against the Cowboys. With a win, it would tie the 1989-1990 team for most consecutive regular-season wins in franchise history, 15.
Loser: those two mid-game defensive drives
As the great Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar once said, “That’s suspicious. That’s weird.”
The 49ers defense played its worst stretch of the season, allowing Arizona’s offense to score on its final drive of the first half and first drive of the second half.
The Cardinals first went 87 yards on 13 plays to score its first touchdown to shrink the 49ers second quarter lead to 11. The drive started innocuous enough, with the defense forcing a three-and-out and a punt at Arizona’s 21-yard-line.
However, Cardinal’s head coach Jonathan Gannon called a fake punt direct snap to Ezekiel Turner, who picked up two yards, just enough for the first down. Arizona then converted another pair of third downs before Dobbs hit Michael Wilson in the end zone after Ambry Thomas didn’t pick up the coverage.
The 49ers opening drive of the second half stalled out, and a Mitch Wishnowsky was downed at the Arizona one-yard-line by Kendall Sheffield, setting the Cardinals’ offense with the longest field possible.
It would average nine yards per play on an 11-yard drive with another trio of third down conversions - with one on an Arik Armstead offsides - before Dobbs found Wilson again to put Arizona within five points.
Those would be Arizona’s final points as the defense forced punts on the Cardinal’s final two drives, but it was dicey for a usually trustworthy defensive unit.
Winner: WR Brandon Aiyuk
If 2022 was Aiyuk announcing his presence to the league, 2023 is the year he establishes himself in the upper-echelon of receivers.
He made up for the numbers lost after missing last Thursday’s game, nearly doubling his season total in yards with 148 on six receptions. Aiyuk’s effort on Sunday raised his yards per game from 86.0 to 106.67 and put him on pace for a 1,700-yard season over what would be 16 games for the receiver.
His exact on-pace number - 1,706 receiving yards - would be good enough to have put him in third-most in 2022, behind only Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill.
Those numbers obviously will fluctuate throughout the season and possibly could improve at the pace Aiyuk’s star is rising.