If the seemingly constant Steve Young-Kyler Murray comparisons weren’t enough to make you throw something at the television, the San Francisco 49ers dropped their home opener to the Arizona Cardinals 20-24 on Sunday afternoon in devastatingly dull fashion. The 49ers went 10 weeks in 2019 before losing their first game, but Kyler Murray’s 91 rushing yards and Deandre Hopkins’s 14 catches for 151 yards proved to be too much for the 49ers as they plummeted to the bottom of the NFC West with wins from all of their conference rivals on the weekend.
The 49ers opened the game as expected, scoring on their first two possessions, the second of which featured a 76-yard TD reception from Raheem Mostert that saw the 49ers go up 10-0.
As is the case with most season openers, the game was full of errors and a handful of lackluster performances. On the next 49ers possession, Punter Mitch Wishnowsky had his punt blocked deep in Niners territory, setting up great field position and an easy touchdown for the Cardinals.
The inability to execute was most apparent in the box score for the 49ers who went two for 11 on 3rd down conversions and 0/2 on 4th down. One failed conversion proved to be more fateful than the rest, when the Niners were stuffed at the goal line on 4th at the end of the first half when they decided to go for a touchdown instead of kicking the field goal.
Questions were raised after the game about Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s decision to go for it there, with Jack Hammer of Sports Illustrated calling his gamble "costly.” Had the 49ers kicked a field goal before heading into halftime, they would have been able to chip in from close range at the end to win the game, rather than being forced to go for the TD on 4th down.
Shanahan seemed terse in the postgame Zoom press conference, saying, “We didn't convert one third down in the first half. We didn't convert one fourth down and we didn't convert in the red zone. So, no matter how well you do on first and second down, you're not going to get many points when you are 0-for in all the other situational areas.”
Members of the media looked for agents of blame in the post-game presser, and Shanahan was cool to spread it around. “When you're 0-for, it's never just one thing. It's a number of things.”
Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to understand why Shanahan went for it at the end of the first half. There was a seeming opportunity to put the game away heading into halftime, and you always want to feel like you can get it when you need to. If the 49ers don’t convert the touchdown, they still employ the QB who led the league last year with four 4th quarter comebacks. But as Shanahan said, execution was lacking, and it effectively cost them this game.
Those looking for answers surrounding Jimmy Garoppolo, following his 4th-quarter Super Bowl collapse, were left with more questions as he especially seemed to lack sharpness on Sunday. Sacked three times in his first outing, Garoppolo missed a handful of throws that starting NFL quarterbacks really should make. He was without his number one receiver Deebo Samuel and 49ers’ 2020 first round draft pick Brandon Aiyuk. The 49ers looked especially dry at wide receiver, and had only four catches from that position on the day.
Garoppolo lamented the lack of ‘The Faithful’ this weekend, with no fans at Levi’s Stadium, but was nonetheless hard on himself after the game. “Obviously it was a little different today without the crowd, just that feel, that game day feel, it just wasn't there,” he told reporters. “But it just comes down to execution, like I said, especially when it comes in the last couple of minutes like that. Every play is crucial, every yard's crucial and we didn't execute when we needed to.”
Credit must go to the Arizona Cardinals, whose stout defense featured an impressive Budda Baker and was supplemented by personal and Cardinal record numbers from two players. Murray seemed to always find an answer to San Francisco’s probing defense, whether slinging it to his new favorite wideout Deandre Hopkins, or scrambling for large gains with his back against the wall late in downs. Hopkins’ 14 catches is his new career high as well as a new Cardinals franchise record for most catches in a game. Murray’s 91 yards on the ground was the second-most for a Cardinals QB behind a 93-yard effort of his own last year. He initially notched 100 rushing yards before seeing his game total slashed with QB kneels at the end.
Tevin Coleman played a limited role with questions being raised all week about his availability for Sunday’s game. The Air Quality Index was 160 at kickoff; had it hit 200 the NFL would have had to make a decision about whether or not to play. Coleman’s history with asthma was a constant concern leading up to this weekend’s game with the smoke from the fires In Northern California causing air quality in Santa Clara to reach dangerous levels. With 4 carries and one catch for 24 yards, the 49ers will need more from Coleman in the coming games if they are to be as successful as the previous season.
Jerrick McKinnon was one of the few bright spots for the Niners on the day, returning to NFL action after nearly 1,000 days rehabbing multiple injuries and scoring a 5-yard touchdown reception. Despite a couple tough penalties for hitting Kyler Murray after sliding, the defense looked apt to dominate games as it did last year. Bosa led the way with six tackles and one forced fumble, but the 49ers missed too many tackles as the game dragged on with a handful of Cardinals players that are especially hard to bring to ground. First round draft pick Javon Kinlaw and free-agent signing Kerry Hyder Jr. both showed promise, with Kinlaw assisting in one tackle and Hyder Jr. recording the first sack of the season for the Niners.
The 49ers will have a chance to bounce back next Sunday in New Jersey against the NY Jets at 11 a.m. PST.
Top photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images