On Sunday, the Cardinals didn’t secure a victory, but they did uncover another crucial piece of the puzzle necessary for future success. Despite a 35-16 loss, the game seemed poised for an even grimmer outcome.
The unstoppable 49ers running back, Christian McCaffery, tallied four touchdowns, leaving defensive coordinator Nick Rallis scrambling to devise a response for their upcoming encounters later in the season.
This match had the potential to derail early, a situation reminiscent of their previous clash in Mexico last season. These are the essential steps this team must take to progress.
Tackle D.J. Humphries summed it up, saying, “You’re never happy after an ‘L,’ but knowing you have some guys in your foxhole that are willing to fight and scratch and claw, that’s always good to know. But happy? No, never.”
Coach Jonathan Gannon recognized that against a formidable team like San Francisco, there’s little room for error. “I appreciate the fight and the effort,” Gannon said. “We have to execute more cleanly and mentally to beat that football team.”
McCaffery amassed 177 total yards, including 106 rushing, taking advantage of the Cardinals (1-3) missing key defensive starters like L.J. Collier, Josh Woods, Jonathan Ledbetter, and Budda Baker. Meanwhile, the 49ers (4-0) showcased a flawless offense, and their offensive lineup remained formidable.
Quarterback Brock Purdy, who has yet to taste defeat when starting for the 49ers, completed 20 out of 21 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers continued their trend of scoring at least 30 points, a feat they achieved in the first four games for the first time in franchise history. Interestingly, the last NFL team to achieve this was the Cardinals themselves in 2021.
Gannon acknowledged the challenges posed by the 49ers’ tactics, stating, “They had some good schemes up like they always do. We didn’t reach third down frequently against such a formidable football team. It’s hard to keep points on the board when you do that.”
The 2023 Cardinals showcased strong quarterback play as well, with Dobbs completing 28-of-41 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns, along with 48 rushing yards. His second touchdown pass to Michael Wilson, which was also Wilson’s second of the game, narrowed the score to a one-score game in the late third quarter, capping an impressive 99-yard drive that shifted the momentum.
However, the 49ers thwarted Conner’s attempt to score a two-point conversion, holding the score at 21-16. That’s as close as the Cardinals would come.
Linebacker Zaven Collins noted, “We got killed early on, we had some penalties, and then they just spotted the ball well on us in open areas of the field. We didn’t fold over. We didn’t quit.”
Michael Wilson had seven catches for 76 yards, and Hollywood Brown contributed with seven receptions for 96 yards. On the 49ers’ side, receiver Brandon Aiyuk, an ASU product, exploited the “open areas” Collins mentioned, amassing 148 yards on six catches.
Both teams controlled the ball well, resulting in the Cardinals having only seven possessions, with the final one coming after the 49ers had secured the victory.
As quarterback Dobbs reflected, “It is a learning opportunity, a growth opportunity. We need to start quicker. We fight as a team. Things aren’t going to go perfectly.”
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