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Despite dreary opening quarter, 49ers eke out home win over Cardinals to retain NFC West lead

© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers are lucky they played the Arizona Cardinals. Over the course of the next six games, they are unlikely to escape with a win in spite of such a dispassionate performance as the one they displayed in Sunday’s first quarter.

That first quarter…

… Was filled with offensive ineptitude, and a defensive showing which featured multiple, frequent coverage busts, zero containment of Kyler Murray, and a death by screen passes. The 49ers had a three-and-out, a turnover-on-downs and another three-and-out before the end of the first quarter.

Twenty-one minutes into the game, the Cardinals led 16-0. The offensive yardage comparison was almost unbelievable. By the time of the Cardinals’ second score, they had 165 yards on offense. The 49ers? Two yards.

Whether it was the day less of rest from the 60 minutes they played against the Seahawks, or just a general lack of urgency in facing a less-than-intimidating Cardinals team, there was no energy coming from the 49ers’ side. They looked like a time that was playing uninspired, lazy football.

Garoppolo and Shanahan nearly conspire to foil own comeback

After that second Cardinals touchdown, Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Richie James Jr. and Kyle Juszczyk on back-to-back plays for a combined 71 yards including a roughing the passer call. Three plays after connecting with Juszczyk, he hit Ross Dwelley for Dwelley’s first career touchdown and cut the deficit to 16-7.

A forced punt by the Cardinals was followed by an 11-play, 55-yard field goal drive to end the half at 16-10. The second half was mostly 49ers, as Garoppolo connected with Dwelley for yet another touchdown, giving the 49ers a 17-16 lead. After a three-and-out from the Cardinals, the 49ers marched down the field and appeared poised to slam the door shut with a touchdown, or, at the very least, a field goal that would force the Cardinals to score a touchdown to take the lead.

Instead, Garoppolo stared down Emmanuel Sanders and threw one of his classically abysmal interceptions. It was returned for 48 yards by linebacker Jordan Hicks, and nearly for a touchdown. The Cardinals took advantage of that with a 19-17, lead-taking field goal.

But the Cardinals are not a good team, and the 49ers mounted yet another drive, highlighted by this absurd catch by Deebo Samuel. This time, it finished with a touchdown from Garoppolo to Kendrick Bourne and gave the 49ers the lead back.

Rather than taking the extra point, Kyle Shanahan opted to confoundingly go for two points and potentially put the 49ers up by six. Instead, they failed, a decision which almost came back to haunt them.

Murray and the Cardinals responded with their own touchdown, putting Arizona up 26-23, meaning that the 49ers couldn’t win the game with a field goal, thanks to the failed two-point conversion.

As another 49ers drive churned on, it seemed that might not matter… until, just outside the red zone, Garoppolo threw a ball behind Ross Dwelley, only to be intercepted by Budda Baker.

Arik Armstead, Garoppolo, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Damontre Moore seal it in outstanding fashion

When all seemed lost, Armstead channeled himself from Week 3, when he forced an absolutely crucial fumble late against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 49ers’ infamous, five-turnover win. On Sunday, he sacked Murray on third down to force a three-and-out to give Garoppolo and Shanahan one last chance at redemption…

And boy, did they redeem themselves.

Garoppolo hit Bourne for short gain, then Samuel for 11 yards. Then, he scrambled and hit Marquise Goodwin for a first down. Then, it was Samuel yet again, followed by a completion to Dwelley, which, to nearly everyone’s surprise in the press box, was ruled a first down. The very next play, Jeff Wilson Jr., in maybe his only offensive snap of the game, just about sealed it with touchdown to make it 30-26. With five touchdowns on the year, he trails only Tevin Coleman (six TDs) for the team touchdown lead outside of Garoppolo.

But, despite the four-point lead, the Cardinals had 31 seconds, three timeouts, and a very shifty quarterback. It wasn’t over. And then it was.

A short pass by Murray was completed, and then immediately blown up by Damontre Moore, who knocked the ball loose from KeeSean Johnson. It was recovered by Jaquiski Tartt, allowing the offense to all but run out the clock.

That “all but,” resulted a hilarious, game-ending touchdown by D.J. Reed Jr., as the 49ers used only defensive backs and linebackers to prevent a Cardinals touchdowns. A series of Cardinals laterals resulted in a 36-26 win and this bizarre play:

The 49ers (9-1) remain a game ahead of the Seahawks (8-2) for first place in the NFC West.


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