49ers rumble over threadbare Cardinals, enter playoffs on 10-game win streak

© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

This was not expected to be a close matchup. That expectation was accurate.

With the Arizona Cardinals putting out a injury-riddled and intentionally rested team comprised of basically just J.J. Watt — in his final game — the 49ers demolished Arizona in the second half en route to a 38-13 win. San Francisco enters the playoffs on a league-high 10-game winning streak.

The tone of that expectation was obvious early. Arizona ran a flea flicker that the 49ers had well covered. But A.J. Green just Moss’d Deommodore Lenoir, who has been extremely susceptible in coverage, and is at a clear height disadvantage in most matchups.

Green stole that, and broke away twice, from Tashaun Gipson Sr., and Lenoir, for a 73-yard touchdown.

But the reaction of the crowd was more of “well, that was weird,” than anything belying real concern. A missed Matt Prater extra point assisted with that. It was apropos of game that was basically decided with pregame personnel.

Arizona’s inactives list featured most of its starting roster, and just about everyone not already on injured reserve, where the likes of Kyler Murray, Budda Baker, Zach Ertz, Rodney Hudson, Rondale Moore and others were already stashed.

The 49ers responded to that opening oddity with an easy touchdown drive. Christian McCaffrey touched the ball three times, capping it off with a 21-yard rush. That marked his 11th touchdown since the 49ers acquired him, exceeding a mark set for a midseason acquisition by Theotis Brown in 1983, per Nick Wagoner.

It wasn’t smooth in the first half. There were penalties on either side, and Brock Purdy took a few sacks, including one, and later a second, from J.J. Watt in his final game. The future Hall of Famer, at age 33, quietly finished this season with 12.5 sacks and 120.5 in his career, which officially ranks him 24th all time.

The offense tallied a second touchdown, though, with a five-yard touchdown run from Elijah Mitchell. It was his first touchdown of the season, after a taxing recovery from two separate MCL sprains.

The defense was suspect in that first half, and if not for Prater’s early extra point miss, the Cardinals would have tied the game.

They had a 12-play, 75-yard drive in which the 49ers struggled to stop the run, allowing a few dink-and-dunk plays — one 17-yard conversion on 3rd-and-14 could be attributed to a Talanoa Hufanga bad angle — that led to a one-yard touchdown rush for Corey Clement.

That would prove to be the extent of the Cardinals’ scoring.

San Francisco concluded the first half with a nine-play, 66-yard touchdown drive, with Brock Purdy throwing an impressive, back-of-the-endzone ball to a toe-tapping George Kittle.

It would not be Kittle’s last touchdown.

At halftime, the stadium serenaded his grandmother, Lucky, with “Happy Birthday.” She was celebrating her 100th birthday, with the rest of Kittle’s family around her.

Her grandson continued his torrid stretch into the second half, when he secured his second touchdown of the game, then pointed up to her in the suite. It was his seventh touchdown in four games, and his 11th of the season. It’s the first time in Kittle’s career that he has reached double-digit touchdowns, and much of his thanks will be owed to Purdy, who has displayed a keen knack for finding him.

Kittle’s touchdown was the final offensive output for the 49ers, preceded by a 27-yard Robbie Gould field goal, and a second touchdown of the day (and the season) for Mitchell.

By the late third quarter, Kyle Shanahan started pulling starters, beginning with McCaffrey for Mitchell, then Mitchell for Jordan Mason and Ty Davis-Price. Next up was Trent Williams for Jaylon Moore. The defense followed suit by the fourth quarter, with a 25-point lead and the Cardinals showing no signs of causing problems.

That offensive quietude from Arizona was a product of the 49ers defense causing a barrage of second-half turnovers.

Gipson Sr. had two second-half interceptions, making it five on the year. He came close to returning one of them for a touchdown, as did George Odum late in the game, on a hilarious, probably ill-advised return that almost ended up with him stumbling into the end zone.

That was the last turnover of the day, preceded by a Jordan Willis strip sack, recovered by defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour, making his 49ers debut.

Despite the first half shakiness on defense, it was another second half shutout, and a cake walk win, as expected.

With the win and a Philadelphia Eagles win over the New York Giants, the 49ers secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs. San Francisco will face the No. 7 seed; either the Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers.


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