The Cardinals' playoff hopes took a significant blow on Saturday, as Arizona fell at home to the 49ers, 20-12. The 49ers were led by quarterback C.J. Beathard's three touchdown passes, Jeff Wilson's 183 rushing yards, and a defense that held the Cardinals to 4 of 16 on third down and 1 of 3 in the red zone.
San Francisco, who has already been eliminated from the postseason, improved to 6-9 while avoiding a season sweep at the hands of the Cardinals. Arizona, who is now 8-7 after a 5-2 start, have fallen behind the Bears (who will face the Jagaurs on Sunday) in the race to earn the NFC's final playoff spot.
Wilson's 21-yard catch-and-carry gave San Francisco a 7-6 halftime lead. After Arizona's running back Kenyan Drake started the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run, 49ers tight end Kyle Juszcyzk's second touchdown of the half extended San Francisco's lead to 20-12 with 8:26 left. 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon ended the Cardinals' next drive when he picked off Kyler Murray's end zone pass intended for Christian Kirk. San Francisco's defense sealed the win when Murray was unable to connect with DeAndre Hopkins on fourth down with 20 seconds left.
Why the 49ers won
While they did cough the ball up once, the 49ers committed their fewest amount of turnovers since Week 6. They also forced two turnovers that included Witherspoon's end zone pick of Murray. Led by Wilson, the 49ers' rushing attack piled up 227 yards on 30 carries. His 34-yard carry set up Beathard's second touchdown pass to Juszcyzk that gave the 49ers an eight-point cushion. Tight end George Kittle, who played for the first time since Week 8, caught four of five targets for 92 yards despite playing on limited snaps. His 24-yard catch set up Wilson's first quarter touchdown, while his 27-yard catch set up Juszcyzk's nine-yard touchdown catch that gave the 49ers a 14-6 third quarter lead.
The 49ers survived a shaky kicking performance from Robbie Gould, who missed three kicks that included field goal attempts of 41 and 37 yards. And while they were just 2 of 9 on third down, one of those conversions was running back Jerick McKinnon's impressive catch-and-carry on a third-and-10 play that set up Juszczyk's first touchdown.
Why the Cardinals lost
While they were 4 of 6 on fourth down, the Cardinals were just 4 of 16 on third down. Drake rushed for just 45 yards on 18 carries, as the Cardinals were out-rushed by the 49ers, 227-120. Hopkins, who caught 14 passes for 151 yards in Arizona's Week 1 win over the 49ers, recorded just 48 yards on eight catches on Saturday. Murray, who went 31 of 50 for 247 yards, was sacked three times while facing consistent pressure from the 49ers' pass rush.
Murray was also bedeviled by his receivers. Trailing 7-3 late in the first half, tight end Dan Arnold dropped a deep pass and also committed a costly false start that forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal. Down 14-6 late in the third quarter, Arnold's fumble on the Cardinals' 36-yard-line appeared to open the floodgates before the Cardinals' defense was able to come up with a stop. And while his interception was the byproduct of an underthrown pass, Kirk, whose 38-yard catch set up Mike Nugent's first quarter field goal, could have done something to prevent Witherspoon from coming down with the ball.
After Drake's touchdown cut their lead to two points, the 49ers appeared to be on their heels when the Cardinals' defense forced a punt on San Francisco's ensuing possession. The 49ers came up with a huge stop, however, as linebacker Fred Warner (whose 14 tackles led both teams) broke up Murray's pass intended for Hopkins on fourth-and-two on the Cardinals' 35-yard-line. Wilson's 34-yard run on the very next play set up Beathard's one-yard touchdown toss to Juszczyk.
Play of the game
While he had several impressive runs, Wilson's touchdown catch gave the 49ers early momentum. Wilson, who entered the game with just 341 rushing yards, recorded his second 100-yard performance of the season. He now has eight touchdowns this season and five in the 49ers' last three games.
"We're not proud of our record, but that doesn't tell the story of who these guys are." -- 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on his injury-marred team, via Peter Panacy of FanSided
"We have to find a way to take the next step." -- Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury after his team lost control of its playoff fate, via Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals' official website
"I will say this, I did grow up a Bears fan, and the fact that we helped the Bears a little bit just made me a little happier. Da Bears!" -- Kittle, a Midwest native who is clearly happy to have helped increase Chicago's playoff hopes
Arizona will travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams, who defeated the Cardinals when the two teams met in Week 13. The 49ers will host the Seahawks, who defeated San Francisco in a shootout back in Week 8. Seattle entered Week 16 with a one-game lead over the Rams and a two-game lead over the Cardinals in the NFC West standings.
Check out our live blog below to re-live Saturday's action in real time.