Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The 49ers played spoiler on Saturday. Both for the Arizona Cardinals’ playoff hopes, and likely the front office’s potential hopes of picking in the top-10 of the upcoming NFL Draft. Thanks to their best efforts, and Arizona’s worst, it was just enough in a 20-12 win.
The only motivation was spoiling it for the Cardinals, who no longer control their own destiny. That was all San Francisco needed.
If you like old-school football, which is to say, stagnant, defense-oriented football, this was your Super Bowl.
Arizona’s despicable offensive performance was defined by the 49ers’ stellar tackling. Without Jimmie Ward, Richard Sherman, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, Dion Jordan and all the myriad players on injured reserve, it was the way they cut down the Cardinals time after time after time to limit them to short games that define the pace of the game.
That… and drops. After Christian Kirk had a deep reception by pushing off on Ahkello Witherspoon on the first drive of the game, the Cardinals dropped at least three passes on those explosive plays they really on so dearly.
Robert Saleh put pressure on Arizona, who did not help themselves with frequent false starts. He rushed corners, often K’Waun Williams on his patented “Shark Blitz,” which netted him a sack on the day.
Williams was immense, despite being carted off in the first half. He had six tackles, two for a loss, one sack, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. Again, this was after being carted off in the first half and re-aggravating whatever injury (knee, shin, ankle, all of the above?) in the second half.
The Cardinals seemed to forget who their quarterback was, and were unable to get anything going.
And yet, they had so many chances to win. They struggled their way to a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter, but a throw behind Deandre Hopkins for the two-point conversion left them trailing 14-12.
But the 49ers, led by C.J. Beathard, who, aside from taking a few unnecessary sacks and throwing a couple interceptable balls, was solid. Better than Nick Mullens at least.
After Arizona went for it from their own 35-yard line and failed, Jeff Wilson Jr. brought it down to the 1-yard line and Beathard found Kyle Juszczyk for the second time. That should have sealed the result at 21-12.
But, it did not. Robbie Gould, who had missed a 41-yard field goal earlier after making 31 straight, missed the extra point. And he wasn’t done.
Wilson Jr., by the way, was fantastic, just as Beathard, Juszczyk and a newly-returned George Kittle were:
- Wilson Jr.: 22 rushes, 183 yards, 1 TD reception for 21 yards
- Beathard: 13-for-22, 182 yards, 3 TD
- Juszczyk: 2 TD receptions for 10 yards, 1 first down rush for 4 yards
- Kittle: 4 receptions, 92 yards
The Cardinals followed that up with a drive down to the 49ers’ red zone, but Ahkello Witherspoon, who is a free agent this offseason, picked off Murray in the end zone.
San Francisco drove down the field and ate up both of the Cardinals’ timeouts and more than three minutes of game time. But like I said, Gould wasn’t done. He pulled a 37-yarder to win it after pushing his two prior attempts. Gould has an option on his contract, with a decision due on December 31. After a stellar season, he may have seriously put that option in jeopardy.
Still, even with Gould failing in spectacular fashion, the Cardinals did not haven anywhere near enough time or capability to pull off a comeback. They were only able to get a single first down, failing to convert on a late 4th and 6.
That was it.
Now, Arizona moves to 8-7 and the 7-7 Chicago Bears are right back in the thick of it. The 49ers’ hopes of drafting in the top-10 are probably gone, too. Here’s a look at where they could be drafting, depending on how other games play out this weekend. They’ll be hoping for a couple of wins from two NFC East teams down the stretch.