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49ers erase early deficit, hang on to beat Cardinals in barn-burner

Banged up and shorthanded, the 49ers rallied back from a 16-point first-quarter deficit Sunday to overcome a hot Cardinals start for a 36-26 Week 11 win.

Jimmy Garoppolo once again enjoyed success in the passing game against Arizona, but, as he did in San Francisco’s first loss last week, suffered costly turnovers.

Without the likes of Joe Staley, George Kittle, Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones, Robbie Gould and Matt Breida, the 49ers (9-1) limped into Sunday’s matchup coming off a heartbreaking loss on Monday night.

Two weeks ago, Kyle Murray and his then newly-acquired running back Kenyan Drake picked apart the 49ers defense.

Ahkello Witherspoon made his return to game action for the first time since Week 3. Kyle Shanahan said that Witherspoon would get his starting job back from Emmanuel Moseley once healthy enough to take on a full week of practice. The 49ers’ first drive on defense featured Moseley starting over Witherspoon.

On the opening drive of the game, the Cardinals (3-7-1) ran the ball with Drake multiple times, while completing passes to both Drake and Larry Fitzgerald. A pass-interference call on Richard Sherman, who was covering Christian Kirk downfield, gave the Cardinals first down inside the 49ers 5-yard line. Two plays later the Cardinals got called for offensive pass interference. Still, the San Francisco defense held Arizona to three points.

Jimmy Garoppolo and the Kittle-less offense followed with a quick three-and-out.

Murray quickly guided Arizona back down the field to claim an early 9-0 advantage on a touchdown pass to Fitzgerald, followed by a missed extra-point.

Aggressively searching for an answering score, Shanahan went for it on fourth and five at the Arizona 40, but Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert couldn’t hook up on a wheel route down the right sideline giving possession right back to Murray.

The two defenses traded stops to end the first quarter.

After converting on a 4th-and-1, the Cardinals found the end zone once again to dig San Francisco into a 16-0 hole.

The 49ers offense was averaging 0.2 yards per play, before opening their next drive. A screen pass from Garoppolo to Richie James resulted in a 57-yard catch and run into Cardinals territory. A short pass over the middle to Kyle Juszczyk setup the 49ers with a first down inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Garoppolo found Ross Dwelley in the back of the end zone for a 49ers touchdown.

After the touchdown, the 49ers sacked Murray to force a 3rd-and-14 from the Cardinals 31-yard line. A Cardinals punt gave the 49ers the ball back with 4:46 left in the first half.

Riding a 23-yard pass to Deebo Samuel, back-to-back neutral-zone infractions and a 14-yard connection from Garoppolo to Sanders, the 49ers overcame a holding penalty nullifying a second Dwelley to set up a Chase McLaughlin field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

Dwelley had a great game Sunday, with the absence of Pro Bowl tight end Kittle. Dwelley is not on the same level as Kittle, but there was one similarity: Touchdown receptions called back due to penalties.

Down 16-10, the 49ers got the ball to begin the third quarter. Garoppolo found Dwelley to end a six-play, 84-yard drive and the 49ers had suddenly taken a 17-16 lead after half time.

Post-game, Kyle Shanahan discussed the 49ers halftime adjustment, and how they were able to very quickly come back after being down 16-0 early on:

“I mean, I think you just try not to freak out, keep things in perspective. Our defense got off the field, we ended up having some penalties that ended up keeping them on, those P.I. calls that they had. It was awesome on the first drive, they held them to a field goal. The offense couldn’t get anything going. Most of the first half, except for that touchdown, when you don’t run the ball well on first and second down, you don’t convert on third down. It was pretty obvious why we were down 16-0, but we were able to convert a few thirds in the pass game, some screens that i think boosted it up a little bit. I think that screen to Richie James was, it felt like, our first first down of the game. We were able to score before half, and come out and get it turned around in the second half.”

The 49er defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, keeping momentum secure, but Garoppolo was picked in the red zone. And Murray and the Arizona offense parlayed the possession into another field goal to reclaim the lead.

Chandler Jones began the 49ers following drive with a sack of Garoppolo. Two plays later, Garoppolo would complete a 26-yard pass to Samuel near the 49ers sideline. The catch by Samuel was one of the more impressive grabs of the season for a 49ers receiver.

A pass over the middle to Kendrick Bourne moved the 49ers into Cardinals territory. From the Cardinals 27-yard line, a dump-off pass to Coleman gave the 49ers another first down. Inside the 20-yard line, Garoppolo found Juszczyk again for his sixth reception of the game. Another pass to Juszczyk would give the 49ers a 1st-and-3 from the 3-yard line. A crossing-route over the middle resulted gave Garoppolo his third touchdown pass of the day, this time to Bourne. Going for two afterward, the 49ers would not convert, giving them a 23-19 lead with 12:14 left in the 4th quarter.

Falling behind once more, the Cardinals dinked-and-dunked their way into 49ers territory after the 49ers’ touchdown. A 22-yard rushing touchdown by Murray would give the Cardinals a 26-23 lead with 6:30 left in the game.

Facing both Murray and Russell Wilson in back-to-back weeks is certainly a tall-task for any defense. Richard Sherman discussed how the two mobile-quarterbacks compare:

Garoppolo responded with four-straight completions to Samuel, Mostert, Samuel, and Bourne to begin the 49ers next drive. Just outside the red zone, the 49ers faced a 3rd-and-7 from the 24-yard line. Once more, Garoppolo turned the ball over in a crucial spot. Cardinals Safety Jalen Thompson would return the interception 18 yards, setting up a Cardinals drive with 4:32 remaining in the game.

The Cardinals ran the ball twice to begin their drive following the interception, setting up a 3rd-and-5 for the Cardinals offense. Arik Armstead would get a huge sack on Murray, forcing a punt.

Beginning near midfield, the 49ers crossed over into Cardinals territory after a pass to Samuel and a Garoppolo quarterback scramble. A short pass to Marquise Goodwin set up the 49ers at the Cardinals 36-yard line. Two plays later, a pass to Samuel led to a 3rd-and-3 for the 49ers from the 28-yard line. With 39 seconds left, the 49ers converted on third down on a short pass to Dwelley. From the 25-yard line, Garoppolo dumped a pass over the middle to Jeff Wilson for the go-ahead touchdown score.

Last week against Seattle, Garoppolo faded when it mattered most. Sunday, he came through in the clutch.

The game-sealing touchdown by Wilson was his one and only offensive snap in the game. After the game, Wilson was still in shock:

“I really don’t know what to say. I am still kind of in the moment. I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I am just happy that i was able to make a play for my team.”

In a play that did little aside from covering the spread, San Francisco scooped a muffed lateral and took it to the end zone stretching the final lead to 10.

After the thrilling come-from-behind win, Shanahan discussed how he felt about this game, and how it felt similar to last weeks loss to Seattle:

“I mean, a lot of ups and downs. There were definitely some good things and then there were some really bad things. It actually reminded me a lot of Monday night, where there were some things where we got really excited about, and then it felt like we blew it a number of times, to where we get crushed. The guys are just resilient, just kept coming, and we were able to finish it off the right way, unlike last week. Two similar games like that, by no means was it perfect, but I was really proud of the guys for how they just kept fighting and found a way to get it done.”

Up Next

The homestand continues with another tough NFC opponent, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (8-2), next Sunday night for a prime time matchup at Levi’s Stadium. The game was flexed into Sunday night last week.


  • Two weeks in a row, the 49ers squared off in games that featured down-to-the-wire finishes. Two back-and-forth, stressful games have to take its toll on a play-caller such as Kyle Shanahan, right? Shanahan discussed how exhausting it can be:

“It’s exhausting for a head coach, or a coordinator. It’s not much different. When you have to focus for that long, it’s exhausting for me, and I’m sure it’s exhausting for our players, and I know it’s exhausting for my wife watching, and I’m sure it’s exhausting for all of the fans. It was an intense game, it was back-and-forth, and i mean that’s why everyone loves this sport. It’s a lot more fun for us when it is easier, but after the game it is always so fun when you go through so much stuff like that, where it’s not perfect.”

  • The 49ers suffered a few injuries Sunday, but none of them appear to be very serious. Dee Ford left the game with a hamstring injury, K’Waun Williams battled a stinger, Deebo Samuel roughed-up his shoulder, and returned, and Emmanuel Sanders left with the rib injury he sustained last week. With the horrible injury luck the team has had, they cannot afford to lose any more players.
  • The 49ers were unable to do much in the run game. The Cardinals stood tall against the run, which resulted in the 49ers airing it out. Kyle Shanahan talked about the inability to run, and how it changed the offense throughout the rest of the game:

“Yeah, it changes a lot. I think that was the first time I consciously got away from it in the second half, just because it didn’t look like it was going well. I think they were playing really well upfront. We weren’t creating a ton of lanes, so we had to make that decison and when you do that, you put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. If you know Jimmy, if you give him a lot of opportunities, he’s going to get some stats and get some yards, because he’s that good of a player. But, it makes it hard not to turn it over too. So, that’s something we haven’t put him in this year. We had to there, we had no choice. he did a hell of a job. Really played unbelivable. Those two turnovers he had on third down, they were tough. Defense got him the ball back and for him to overcome those two turnovers on third down and go and finish it like that, he played a hell of a game.”

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