The fairest point to make after the Cardinals were outscored 21-0 in the second half Monday night after fighting gamely in the first two quarters but lost 38-10 is that the numbers don’t lie.
The other is that the 49ers are currently an infinitely more talented team than the Cardinals and they have gotten healthier after three of their losses in the first seven games came against the Bears, Broncos and Falcons, three teams that have a combined record of 11-21. The other loss was to the 8-2 Chiefs.
It’s a flight of fancy to wonder where the 49ers would be now had quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not needed shoulder surgery last March, which would have resulted in an offseason trade.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ seven losses have been, in order, to the Chiefs (8-2), Vikings (8-2), Rams (3-7), Eagles (9-1), Seahawks (6-4) and the 49ers (6-4). Add those records up and it comes to 46-24 counting Seattle twice.
While vocal voices point fingers at general manager Steve Keim, coach Kliff Kingsbury and owner Michael Bidwill, who supposedly doesn’t care about winning, it makes me wonder how other teams would be faring having to play with a roster ravaged (Troy Aikman’s word) by injuries, especially on offense.
The Cardinals opened Monday’s game with four projected season-opening starters on offense and that includes wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who missed the first six games of the season because of a league-imposed suspension. The others were right tackle Kelvin Beachum, running back James Conner and wide receiver Rondale Moore. Then, it didn’t take long to lose Moore to a groin injury on the first play of the game after he had already missed time at the beginning of the season with a hamstring issue.
Yes, that was essentially the cast that played in last week’s game against the Rams, but that was a win fashioned against a team that is a shell of what it was nine months ago when they won the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals had two takeaways in that game, which led to points, and no turnovers. They were able to build a lead, a rarity this season.
The Rams and Cardinals, now a combined 7-14, are glaring examples of teams that bely the lazy narrative that “all teams have injuries,” an empty take that has no context.
In Mexico City, the Cardinals fell behind 14-3 in the second quarter and were able to cut the lead to 14-10, mostly thanks to a free play when quarterback Colt McCoy connected with wide receiver Greg Dortch on a 47-yard catch-and-run to the 49ers 13-yard line on a play where 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa was offside.
It was 17-10 at halftime, but everything came crashing down in the second half. Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened had Dortch turned the right way on a fourth-and-3 play that began at the 49ers 41-yard line with the score 24-10.
Then again, that’s been the story of this season.
As McCoy said afterward, “There were some timing things that he hadn’t had reps on during the week that Rondale had all the reps. But Greg Dortch is a great football player. I know Kyler trusts him. I know I trust him. He brings a lot of juice to our football team. And I thought he did a really nice job stepping up.”
San Francisco had touchdown passes of 32 and 39 yards to tight end George Kittle from Garoppolo and wide receiver Deebo Samuel ran 39 yards for another score. Those 110 yards accounted for 28.4 percent of San Francisco’s 387 total yards.
McCoy was an efficient 17-for-23 for 172 yards in the first half, although his lone interception led to a touchdown. However, in the second half, the beat-up McCoy was 7 of 11 for a mere 46 yards before being mercifully replaced by Trace McSorley for the final two possessions of the game.
If Kyler Murray is unable to play next Sunday against the Chargers, it was imperative that McCoy be protected and hopefully able to play after a short week against another talented defensive team.
The truth is, San Francisco’s offensive line wore down the Cardinals defense as Garoppolo utilized a variety of weapons. Running back Christian McCaffrey totaled 106 yards from scrimmage with seven rushes for 39 yards and seven receptions for 67. Running back Elijah Mitchell, who had one carry for four yards in the first half, had eight for 55 in the final two quarters.
Kittle had 84 yards on four receptions, while Samuel totaled 94 yards with 57 receiving and 37 rushing.
San Francisco had 33 rushing yards at halftime and added 126 in the second half.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “That’s a really good team. We knew we had to play as good as we played all year and I thought they played really physical in the second half and found a way to make plays.”
Meanwhile, Conner had a pedestrian 42 yards rushing on 14 carries (3.0 average). Dortch’s 47-yard play helped him have 103 in the game and Hopkins had 91 yards on nine catches and reached 11,068 yards for his career.
Most troublesome is that the Cardinals remain inept on first down. They entered the game last in the NFL with an average of 4.37 yards and in the first half had 10 yards on 16 first-down plays. One was Conner’s 2-yard touchdown and another a 12-yard sack on the final play of the half. Even without those, it was 14 plays for 20 yards. On McCoy’s three second-half possessions, it was 6-for-27.
On one first-half possession, Conner had minus-1 yard on three consecutive first-down attempts. Of the 16 first-half, first-down plays, six were for negative yardage and another five were for one or two yards including Conner’s touchdown.
Conversely, the 49ers ranked eighth in the league with an average of 6.06 yards on first down through Week 11 and gashed the Cardinals Monday night.
In the first half, they totaled 121 yards on 14 plays (8.64 average) and were 10-for-77 in the second half before Brock Purdy replaced Garoppolo. A striking 198 yards were on 24 first-down plays (8.25 average).
As McCoy concluded in the most simplest of terms, “When you play a team like the 49ers, there is little room for error.”
The reality Monday night is that there weren’t an overwhelming number of errors. The 49ers are just simply better.
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