SF 49ers offense stutters, sloppy play ends with Week 1 loss to Cardinals
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers looked awfully disjointed and uninspiring in Week 1 against the Cardinals, resulting in an ugly and disappointing 24-20 loss.
So much for the SF 49ers‘ 2020 revenge tour getting off to a hot start when the NFC West rivals, the Arizona Cardinals, came to town for a Week 1 bout at Levi’s Stadium.
And Arizona managed to come from behind and upset head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad, which fell 24-20 in the sloppy shocker.
The Niners got on the board first after receiving the opening kickoff, converting on a 52-yard field goal from kicker Robbie Gould to take a 3-0 lead after their drive stalled.
Yet San Francisco’s defense managed to do its job, which led to running back Raheem Mostert hauling in a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to put the SF 49ers up 10-0 early.
Yes, fans forgot how fast Mostert, a former collegiate track star, was:
Mostert would finish the day with 56 rush yards on 15 carries and 95 yards through the air with a touchdown.
Yet the chances of rust were still there for both teams, particularly on special teams, where the Cardinals blocked a punt from punter Mitch Wishnowsky, recovered it and then scored a touchdown by running back Chase Edmonds the very next play to make it 10-7.
San Francisco’s defense clamped down after the turnover, however, which led to a red-zone scoring chance for Garoppolo and Co. Running back Jerick McKinnon, after missing the last two years on injured reserve after suffering an ACL tear early in 2018, nearly rushed into the end zone but was tackled at the 1-yard line on third down, and Mostert was stopped just inches short on the SF 49ers’ first fourth-down conversion attempt for a turnover on downs.
Arizona missed its first field-goal try the following possession, yet the Niners weren’t able to capitalize.
But linebacker Dre Greenlaw wasn’t worried. His deflection off Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray just before the two-minute warning ended up being intercepted by safety Jaquiski Tartt, turning some of the lost momentum back in San Francisco’s favor:
Murray ended up finishing the game going 26-of-40 for 230 yards, a touchdown against an interception for a 78.1 passer rating. But where Murray was dangerous was on the ground, as he also rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown, too, revealing some still-existing problems San Francisco had with mobile quarterbacks last year.
Garoppolo, meanwhile, was 19-of-33 for 259 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 103.0.
But this is a classic case where the stats are misleading, as Garoppolo looked shaky through the entirety of the game.
One of Jimmy G’s throws intended for Kittle sailed high, and Kittle was subsequently hit low by Arizona safety Budda Baker, forcing Kittle out of the game briefly. And that play ultimately thwarted the Niners’ red-zone drive there, resulting in another field goal to make it 13-7 just before halftime.
Yet the Cardinals managed to respond after a quick two-minute drive to tack on a field goal of their own with first-half time expiring.
SF 49ers fall apart in the second half
Armed with a 13-10 second-half lead and out on defense to start the third quarter, the SF 49ers’ next biggest priority would be to stop Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who figured to be Arizona’s top receiving weapon.
And he was, hauling in 14 catches for 151 yards during the day.
But Murray’s rushing prowess threatened the most on the Cardinals’ first offensive possession, although a second miss from Arizona’s kicker, Zane Gonzalez, kept the score 13-10 in favor of San Francisco.
Only to see the 49ers go 3-and-out their next possession.
Third downs were among those key X-factors the Niners needed to win on Sunday. Especially considering Arizona’s third-down defense ranked third-worst in the NFL a season ago while San Francisco’s third-down conversion rate was over 44 percent.
Yet the 49ers ended up going 0-of-6 on third downs in the first half, finishing with an overall 2-of-11 rate during the game.
The Cardinals took the lead on a 14-play, 94-yard drive which saw two critical penalties — one against cornerback K’Waun Williams and another against EDGE Kerry Hyder — continue Arizona’s drive, which ended with a 22-yard touchdown scramble by Murray to put the Cardinals up 17-13.
San Francisco scrambled to get the lead back on its next drive, aided by a pass-interference call against the Cardinals to put Garoppolo and the offense into the red zone.
Garoppolo hit McKinnon for the go-ahead 5-yard touchdown to make it 20-17 in favor of the SF 49ers.
Now, the question would be how the Niners defense would respond protecting the lead again.
Unfortunately, containing Murray and Hopkins continued to be a problem, and Hopkins managed to retake the lead amid a busted coverage for a 33-yard reception to set up a score to make it 24-20 in favor of Arizona.
That left things up to Garoppolo and the rest of the offense to engineer a four-minute drive to retake the lead, not unlike what the 49ers had to do at home against Arizona in Week 11 last year.
It ultimately came down to a 4th-and-5 play, broken up by Cardinals defensive back Byron Murphy to essentially seal San Francisco’s fate.
A late throw by Garoppolo, and the Niners now find themselves surprised and 0-1 to start the season.