The San Francisco 49ers found a second home in Mexico City on Monday night. An offense that has struggled to score at times this season found no such issues. It was a peformance fitting of the occasion and of a star-studded offense.
After a few tepid drives, the offense reached an unparalleled level of execution. Aside from a couple effective dink-and-dunk Arizona Cardinals drives, the defense was staunch. Special teams was not of note (which is generally a good thing for this team). The result? A 38-10 shellacking and proof that there is a wide gulf between these two teams.
Defensively, there wasn’t much to complain about in the early going. While Colt McCoy was impressive, SF made a few key stops, starting with a game-opening 3-and-out in which Arizona didn’t secure a single yard.
The Cardinals responded with a field goal, before punting again on the ensuing drive.
The 49ers turned that punt into their first points of the game, and never trailed again. Brandon Aiyuk, who has suddenly looked like one of the most well-rounded receivers in the league, executed one of his patented whip routes for a touchdown to put the 49ers up 7-3 early.
While there were a few issues — especially at the end of first half, with tackling, playing soft zone coverage on a Cardinals team that continued to throw the ball underneath effectively — they were not substantial, and outweighed by an early separator in the game, a Jimmie Ward interception.
James Conner bobbled, then dropped a dump pass and Ward plucked it for just his fifth career INT. In rare fashion, the San Francisco offense took immediate advantage of the turnover.
Jimmy Garoppolo, who remains surprisingly consistent — his lack of turnover-worthy plays and off-schedule plays have him clearly at the most impressive level of his career — could have taken off on a third-and-three with acres of space ahead of him. Instead — and perhaps knowing he might take a hard hit to run for it — he kept the play alive and found George Kittle open over the top. Kittle did the rest, breaking off a couple tackles for touchdown and a 14-3 49ers lead.
Neither Aiyuk nor Kittle would be done scoring at that point.
The closest things got were on Arizona’s ensuing drive. The 49ers played soft coverage while the Cardinals continued to throw to DeAndre Hopkins, and the defense missed a handful of tackles on James Conner, who concluded a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
That, though, was the conclusion of the Cardinals’ offensive output.
San Francisco stalled out on its final drive of the half to go up 17-10. But the second half was an absolute beatdown.
An offense which had leaned on the pass game in the first half went heavy on the ground in the second. After just seven carries for 33 yards in the first half, and following a Jimmy Garoppolo run for a first-down conversion to open the half, Kyle Shanahan dialed up three-straight Elijah Mitchell runs, then a fullback dive for a first down.
On the next play, it looked like it was going to Mitchell again. Shanahan knew that, as the Arizona defense committed heavily. Then Deebo Samuel took the ball on an end around with a stellar group of blockers ahead of him, taking it for a career-long 39-yard rushing touchdown.
That opened the floodgates.
The run game just kept on rolling, as the 49ers blocked better than they have all season. There was one play in particular, when Aiyuk and Aaron Banks sealed two blocks in the backfield, Kyle Juszczyk sealed the edge, and Trent Williams clobbered someone to part the red sea for a 19-yard Elijah Mitchell run.
That run set up yet another Aiyuk touchdown grab, this time a 13-yarder. It was his second of the game, and he wasn’t alone in that respect for long.
After a Cardinals turnover on downs at midfield, Kittle found the end zone for the second time, too. He ripped off a 32-yard touchdown reception and was obliged by Arizona’s defenders, who showed absolutely no interest in tackling him. They’d given up.
It was a complete performance. The defense allowed 10 points, securing two turnovers (and one on downs) and allowing just 4.4 yards per play.
And the offense? There’s little question this was the best it’s looked all year.
Jimmy Garoppolo was just about flawless, going 20-for-29 with 228 yards and 3 TDs. His ability to avoid turnover-worthy plays, stay calm in the pocket, and show ingenuity on off-schedule plays is very encouraging for this team’s prospects going forward.
It was the first game that all the weapons got involved. Aiyuk and Kittle had two TDs each. Samuel had a rushing TD. Mitchell and McCaffrey averaged 6.6 and 5.6 yards per carry, respectively, and McCaffrey added seven catches for 67 yards.
Even with missed opportunities, the 49ers refused to let the Cardinals — who were depleted, missing Kyler Murray and Hollywood Brown — hang around. They’ve let worse teams weasel back into games. Not on Monday, though. And now, at 6-4, with a 4-0 division record, they lead the NFC West.