49ers vs. Cardinals: Defense takes center stage as San Francisco clips Arizona

Chris Biderman

Chris Biderman

The Sacramento Bee

Robbie Gould missed three field-goal tries but the 49ers were able to hold on against the Cardinals on Saturday.

San Francisco improved to 6-9 with a 20-12 victory over Arizona, thanks to 227 rushing yards and another sterling performance from a defense that played without a handful of key players.

Here’s our rundown of the game:

First quarter

The Cardinals opened the game with an 11-play field goal drive that went 74 yards, with 38 coming on a deep connection from Murray to receiver Christian Kirk, who beat Ahkello Witherspoon. The 49ers held up in the red zone thanks to a big hit on a third-down incompletion from safety Tarvarius Moore of Kirk in the back of the end zone.

Beathard’s first drive didn’t last long. San Francisco got one first down on a running play but was forced to punt when Beathard was sacked linebackers Devon Kennard and Markus Golden.

George Kittle made his first catch a possession later going 24 yards while making a nifty inside move that made two defenders miss. Kittle was credited with 23 yards after the catch. The team converted its first third down with a direct snap to fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who plugged it up the middle for three yards.

The 49ers scored their first points minutes later when Wilson ran an in-cutting route with a nifty move at the top of his break to separate from his defender. It was Wilson’s team-leading eighth TD of the season. It was a similar run to Wilson’s game-winning touchdown against Arizona in November 2019.

Second quarter

Beathard took a big hit when he lowered his shoulder against safety Budda Baker on a 17-yard run, but Juszczyk and Richie James Jr. dropped passes, leading to a punt from inside Cardinals’ territory. The defense got the ball back, forcing a punt on a third-straight possession.

Wilson left the game after a run to start the next possession with an apparent hand injury before San Francisco went three and out and punted the ball back with 3:20 left before halftime. Beathard was sacked for the second time before the offense had to give it up.

It appeared the defense made its fourth straight stop when Witherspoon made a strong third-down tackle on Kirk, but the Cardinals elected to go for it on fourth-and-3, leading to Murray running for it around the left edge a 9-yard gain into San Francisco territory.

Cornerback Jason Verrett made a strong defensive play to dislodge a pass thrown to DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone inside the final minute. Hopkins was shaken up on the play and left to the locker room early as the Cardinals settled for a 43-yard field goal to make it 7-6 with 35 seconds remaining.

The 49ers wound up turning the ball over with 8 seconds before halftime when Beathard’s arm was hit by Haason Reddick just before his arm moved forward. But time ran out before the Cardinals could make anything of it. The two teams hit the locker room with the 49ers leading 7-6.

Third quarter

The 49ers put together their longest drive of the game just after halftime, but safety Deionte Thompson made a good play to break up a third-down pass over the middle to Jordan Reed, forcing the 49ers to settle for a 41-yard field goal. But Robbie Gould pushed the attempt wide right. It was his only attempt inside 50 yards he’s missed this season.

San Francisco’s defense forced a three-and-out thanks to a sack from blitzing slot cornerback K’Waun Williams.

Wilson broke the 100-yard mark on the next series with a 23-yard run on a pitch to the right. Kittle made his third catch of the game, a 27-yarder into the red zone, leading Juszczyk’s career-best fifth touchdown of the season. He was Beathard’s fourth different target on the drive.

The 49ers defense took the ball away on the Cardinals’ next possession. Tight end Dan Arnold was stripped by linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair before it was recovered by Fred Warner. But the 49ers went three and out, punting the ball from Arizona’s 39-yard line.

The Cardinals started to play with more desperation and decided to go for it on fourth-and-5 inside their own territory, and Murray scrambled for an 11-yard gain, his second fourth-down conversion with his legs of the afternoon. Murray then completed a 45-yard catch to KeeSean Johnson, setting up Arizona’s second trip to the red zone.

Fourth quarter

Witherspoon was flagged for holding Hopkins in the end zone, setting up a first-and-goal from the 1. The 49ers stopped two runs for no gain before Kenyan Drake on third down leaped over the line of scrimmage and barely got the ball across the goal line to make it 14-12.

But the Cardinals failed on the game-tying two-point conversion when Murray tried to find Hopkins on a back-shoulder fade but the throw was too far behind him, allowing San Francisco to keep the two-point lead.

The 49ers didn’t get any help from the offense. It went three-and-out following the 14-play touchdown drive. But the defense held strong, forcing a turnover on downs when Warner batted down a pass to Hopkins at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-2 from Arizona’s 35-yard line.

The next snap was a 34-yard run from Wilson, followed by Juszczyk’s second touchdown of the game when he leaked into the left flat wide open off of play action. Gould missed the extra point for just the second time all season, making it an eight-point game, allowing Arizona to stay in it. Gould left four points on the board with missed kicks in the tight game.

The Cardinals got going on the following possession thanks to a 30-yard run from Murray. But then Witherspoon made onf ot eh biggest plays of his career with an interception on deep pass to Kirk near the right pylon to give the 49ers the ball back, and take away Arizona’s chance at tying the game with five minutes remaining.

The 49ers began to salt the game away with another long completion to Kittle giving him 92 yards on four receptions. Wilson had another first-down run, giving him 179 yards on the day. They had a chance to effectively end the game with a made field goal, but Gould pulled this one to the right, his third missed kick of the game, to keep the Cardinals alive down by eight.

But the 49ers held on, thanks to strong coverage on a deep pass down field from Witherspoon, and a failed fourth-down from Arizona when Alex Barrett drilled Murray as he threw an incompletion to Hopkins along the left sideline where Verrett had good coverage.

Murray was shaken up on the play. But despite the missed kicks, the 49ers improved to 6-9 with the 20-12 victory.

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