Down Go the Defending NFC Champions!
The Arizona Cardinals picked up a huge Week 1 divisional win over their Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. You can’t have a better start to your season than beating the best team in the conference on their own field.
The Cardinals got off to a slow start, falling behind 10-0, including a 76-yard touchdown reception from Niners RB Raheem Mostert. But on the next defensive series, Arizona safety Ezekiel Turner forced his first blocked punt of his career, and the Cards took advantage as Chase Edmonds scampered into the end zone on a 10-yard catch-and-run.
Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez would go on to miss a potential game-tying 52-yard field goal, but redeemed himself with a career-long 56-yarder as time expired in the first half. Arizona would head into the locker room, down 13-10 at the half.
Following an uneventful third quarter, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray turned in one of the most impressive plays of the game, running 22 yards for a touchdown and the lead.
On the ensuing 49ers possession, Arizona had San Francisco outside of field goal range on 3rd-and-10, when a defensive pass interference call on Jordan Hicks negated a huge interception by Cardinals safety Chris Banjo. With new life, QB Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Jerick McKinnon for a five-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal.
DeAndre Makes an Appearance!
On the very next drive, Kyler Murray found new Arizona WR DeAndre Hopkins wide open on third-down, with Hopkins streaking to the end zone before the Niners defense caught him, scoring an apparent Cardinals touchdown. However, after review, San Francisco caught a break, with the ball marked short at the half-yard line. The drama was short-lived, as Kenyan Drake would cross the plane on the following play for his first touchdown of 2020. With the point-after kick, the Cardinals held a 24-20 lead with just over five minutes left in the game.
The 49ers responded with a drive that placed them just outside the red zone with 90 seconds left, down only four points.
On first down, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson gets beat, but breathes a sigh of relief when an underthrown ball leads to an incompletion. On second down, Jimmy Garoppolo finds Trent Taylor for five yards.
After an incompletion to Taylor on third down, the Niners faced a critical fourth-down with only 30 seconds left to play. As the ball sailed to Taylor for the potential game-winner, cornerback Byron Murphy saved the day for the Cardinals with his second consecutive pass defense.
With three San Francisco timeouts remaining, Kenyan Drake was able to pick up a first down on the Cardinals’ final possession to seal the victory for Arizona.
DeAndre Hopkins was absolutely phenomenal in his Cardinals debut, and it seemed he had already earned the trust of Murray, who threw it his way 16 times in the opener. Hopkins, who has some of the league’s most reliable hands, was able to haul in a career-high 14 of those targets, to the tune of 151 yards.
Murray had an up-and-down day throwing the ball for Arizona; not great, but not bad. He finished the game going 26-of-40 for 230 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. He also added 91 yards on the ground.
It’s pretty clear Arizona views Kenyan Drake as their true number-one running back, as he had 16 carries on the day. Chase Edmonds was the next-closest with six carries. Drake and Edmonds combined for five catches.
For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 of Murray’s 26 completions to Hopkins, Drake, and Edmonds. Maybe you can blame that on the lack of preseason, but Murray is going to need to spread the ball around more than he did on Sunday for this offense to continue being successful.
I said it last week: the outcome of the 2020 season for Arizona is in the defense’s hands. A bottom-five unit last season, the Cardinals defense looked drastically improved from a year ago, save for a few broken plays. It was rookie LB Isaiah Simmons who was burned by Mostert on a long touchdown pass in the first quarter, but I’m willing to chalk that up to a rookie seeing his first-ever NFL action.
“I thought they battled their tails off.” [I was] very impressed with the coaching staff and their adjustments, and the players, just their overall effort, the kind of ‘refuse to lose’ type mentality and the stops they had there at the end.”Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, on the defense
All-Pro tight end George Kittle was held to just four receptions for 44 yards, all of which occurred in the first half.
When it mattered most, the Cardinals defense was able to shut down the San Francisco offense, allowing just seven points in the second half. If they can keep up that kind of play all year, the NFL should be put on watch: this team is just too talented across the board to be taken lightly.
We’ll see if this young Arizona team can keep up the momentum next week at home against the Washington Football Team.
(Featured Image Credit: Josie Lepe for AP Photos / AZCardinals.com)