Given the loss of their franchise quarterback early in the season, injuries, and nagging questions about the depth of their rebooted quarterback, this has been a season of fits and starts for the San Francisco 49ers. Even the acquisition of Christian McCaffrey, one of the most dynamic players in the league, was seen by a small, sullen few as a "desperate" move.
But when the red-and-gold machine is healthy, the Niners are a team full of potent weapons.
In the high-altitude and drizzly conditions of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on Monday Night, the 49ers looked fabulous, winning a game they should have won against the admittedly unspectacular and Kyler Murray-less Arizona Cardinals, 38-10. Despite the relaxed degree of difficulty, it was a big Week 11 win, vaulting the Niners to a 6-4 record and a tie for the lead in the admittedly unspectacular NFC West.
It's always fun to take the show on the road and listen to ESPN announcer Joe Buck pronounce locations and proper nouns in Spanish. (¡Muy Bien, José!) At an altitude of 7,200 feet, the massive, multi-purpose Estadio Azteca sits a full 1,920 feet higher than mile-high stadium in Denver. Maybe it was something about the altitude that made the game feel closer than it actually was.
Led by backup-quarterback journeyman Colt McCoy, the Cardinals came out slinging and kicked an early field goal, while the Niners' machine that was destine to fire on all cylinders had yet to get out of first gear. (I'm trying out a bunch of different metaphors for this story.) It wasn't until the end of the first quarter that the 49ers got it going with George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, and then a 20-ish yard Christian McCaffrey run to start the second quarter, taking San Francisco into the red zone for an eventual Brandon Aiyuk touchdown catch.
The next Arizona possession led to a tipped ball and interception. A few catches up the middle from Kittle made it 14-3 shortly thereafter.
I'm writing this like all of the 49ers mentioned were taking the snaps themselves. What of the conductor of this orchestra?
Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 228 yards last night with four touchdown passes, matching a career high — it was the first time he's gone three straight games without an interception. But it was Jimmy G's efficiency on third down that had Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman singing his praises.
Even with the W last night, however, it's not exactly smooth sailing for Garoppolo through the sport-media waters. "If the 49ers do not make it to the Super Bowl, it will be because of Jimmy G," said Stephen A. Smith. The monkey on Jimmy G's back — or the notion that Garoppolo is the monkey on the 49ers' back — remains hard to shake.
But watching last night's game, you'd never know these narratives existed.
The Cardinals scrapped their way to a touchdown with about four minutes left in the second quarter, but it would be all Niners for the rest of the game. Christian McCaffrey continued to pound for his average 5.6 yards a carry for his 39-yards total (including seven receptions).
The 49ers kicked a field goal near the end of the second, and a Nick Bosa sack iced the first half at 17-10 Niners.
Oh, hey, remember Elijah Mitchell?
After going out with an injury in Week 1, he had a solid game against the Chargers last week, and ran for 59 yards last night with a lot of action to start the third quarter. That set up my favorite play of the game, a 40-ish yard reverse to Deebo Samuel who ran it in for the touchdown. It was 24-10 Niners, and it started to smell like a blowout.
The Cardinals converted a bunch of third downs, but they eventually turned it over on downs, leading to another touchdown for Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. The 49er's weapons had their way with Arizona, scoring with impunity, and looking like a high-octane team ready to run straight into the playoffs.
How did the win feel?
Cómo se dice “Feels great, baby!” @espnsutcliffe x @49ersESP pic.twitter.com/hfChQfdUNf— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 22, 2022