SF 49ers shock Cardinals, C.J. Beathard gets second career win

San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

The SF 49ers pulled off the near impossible, beating the playoff-hopeful Cardinals behind the hot hand of backup quarterback C.J. Beathard.

It was a little weird for SF 49ers to watch their beloved team on either Twitch or Amazon Prime on a Saturday in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals.

But despite the shake-up in fan routine, the outcome turned out to be quite the shocker.

And in the Niners’ favor, too, as they upset their NFC West division rivals 20-12 and putting a dent in Arizona’s postseason hopes.

The game marked the first start since 2018 for San Francisco’s No. 3 quarterback on the initial 2020 roster, C.J. Beathard, who got the nod despite his 1-9 record as a starter in the wake of fellow quarterback Nick Mullens‘ season-ending elbow injury suffered the week before. It also marked the return of tight end George Kittle, who missed each of the last games since Week 8 when he suffered a broken foot against the Seattle Seahawks.

Arizona got on the board first with a field goal, but Beathard responded with an impressive 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jeff Wilson Jr. to make it 7-3 late in the first quarter:


Beathard finished the day going 13-of-22 for 182 yards, three touchdowns against no interceptions for a 125.4 passer rating, whereas Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray answered with 247 pass yards, 75 rush yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a 66.0 passer rating.

While that was seemingly a lopsided battle to watch entering the game, the majority of eyes were going to be on Arizona’s top wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, who had a career-best 14-catch, 151-yard game back when these two teams last met in Week 1.

Hopkins had eight catches but for only 48 yards. It appears the SF 49ers learned their lesson from Week 1.

Instead, it was Wilson who was the offensive standout from the game, notching a career-best 183 rush yards and averaging 8.3 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s defense held Arizona to 184 total yards in the first half and an average of 4.4 yards per play over those first two quarters, holding a 7-6 lead in the process.

By game’s end, the Cardinals had 350 all-purpose yards.

The SF 49ers got the first points of the second half, too, with Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk hauling in a 9-yard pass from Beathard to take a 14-8 lead. Arizona answered back with a long drive and touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but a would-be game-tying two-point try failed, keeping the Niners in the lead 14-12.

Going for it on fourth down was a Cardinals theme, but a key pass breakup on a 4th-and-2 at the Arizona 35-yard line was knocked down by Pro Bowl linebacker Fred Warner, leading to a long Wilson run and Juszczyk’s second receiving touchdown of the game to make it 20-12 with kicker Robbie Gould, who missed a field goal earlier, missing the extra-point attempt.

That seemed to loom large. But that was before the embattled cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon, picked off Murray in the end zone to give San Francisco possession late in the fourth quarter.

Gould’s follow-up try could have iced the game. Yet his miss, his second in addition to a missed extra-point try, opened up one last chance for the Cardinals.

San Francisco survived the last-minute onrush, though, to overcome Gould’s gaffes.

SF 49ers franchise record watch: Brandon Aiyuk

Entering the game, rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk needed 195 receiving yards to pass the franchise’s record for the most by a rookie player, set at 927 back in 1985 by the Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice.

It was going to be a tougher order with Beathard under center, especially with the Niners putting more emphasis on the run game to avoid an already dreadfully high number of turnovers their offense has committed this season.

Aiyuk managed just one catch for 15 yards in the game, bringing his 2020 total to 748 yards. He’ll now need 179 yards to catch Rice’s mark and will have the shot at doing so in Week 17 against a weak Seattle Seahawks pass defense.

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For now, the Niners are 6-9 on the season and will look to play spoiler one more time versus Seattle.

And Beathard gets his second win as an NFL starter. His last one came way back in 2017.