The San Francisco 49ers are 8-0 on the season and this latest 28-25 win over the Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) may be the most impressive yet. Why? Because they didn't have to rely on their top-ranked defense to squeak out the win. Instead, it was quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who tossed for 317 yards and four touchdowns in the win. With him playing at this level coupled with their defense, San Francisco isn't just looking like a perfect team, but a bonafide Super Bowl favorite.
As for the Cardinals, they showed tremendous fight in this game to push the 49ers to the brink, but ultimately their inexperience on the sideline proved too costly.
The Niners are still unbeaten, but it wasn't easy in Arizona. Ryan Wilson, John Breech and Sean Wagner-McGough join Will Brinson to break it down on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below, and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Scroll on down to read our biggest takeaways from this matchup.
Why the 49ers won
San Francisco's defense wasn't rattled after the opening score by Arizona and quickly remembered they are the No. 2 unit in the NFL in DVOA. The Cards were forced to punt on four straight drives following that opening touchdown and the Niners eventually found success getting after Kyler Murray, who was sacked three times and on the run for a large portion of the night.
After they had an uncharacteristic string of early penalties to start the game (including a horse-collar penalty by Dee Ford on a third-and-9 on Arizona's opening drive that would have forced them to punt), San Fran played more discipline and simply let their talent win out.
Offensively, Jimmy Garoppolo and his supporting cast cashed in on critical downs and took advantage of Arizona's mistakes. Three of Garoppolo's four touchdowns came on third down and the other came on fourth. That fourth-down score came after Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsburgy called a timeout right before his defense stopped the 49ers at the goal-line. Instead of going into the locker room with the score knotted at 14, Garoppolo hit Emmanuel Sanders for a quick score.
Speaking of Sanders, he took another step in his familiarity with the Niners offense. In his second game since coming over from the Denver Broncos, the veteran receiver caught seven passes for 112 yards and that score, while showing some really nice chemistry with Garoppolo. That trust was on full display with around four minutes to play in the fourth quarter. After Arizona just completed an 88-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion to bring the game within three points, the 49ers were facing a third-and-11 from their own 48-yard line. It was there when Garoppolo looked Sanders' way and came up with a 16-yard catch. San Francisco was able to continue to drive and kill the necessary clock to prevent a possible Arizona comeback.
Why the Cardinals lost
As we illustrated above, Arizona's defense simply couldn't get off the field as the Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners offense converted eleven of their seventeen third-down opportunities on the night, and four of those conversions went for touchdowns.
Offensively, the Cardinals didn't get much of production from their skill position players outside of running back Kenyan Drake. In his Arizona debut, Drake ran for 110 yards and a touchdown, while catching all four of his targets for 52 yards. He accounted for 162 of the Cardinals' 357 total yards, and that doesn't even tell the entire story as Andy Isabella's 88-yard touchdown padded those numbers.
While he played great, it's a little concerning that someone so green was the center of Arizona's offense and not a player more seasoned in the system.
Of course, the obvious reason for why the Cardinals ultimately fell to the 49ers on Thursday night was largely due to Kliff Kingsbury's decision to call a timeout on fourth-and-goal right before halftime. And that leads us into our Turning Point for this matchup.
After going up 7-0 on their opening drive, the Cardinals simply couldn't keep their foot on the gas in the first half. Arizona was able to force the 49ers to go three-and-out on consecutive drives to start the game, but couldn't take full advantage of it. KeeShean Johnson dropped an easy first down pass to start their third drive of the night and two plays later Kyler Murray missed Christian Kirk for another should-be easy conversion.
From there, Arizona was forced to punt, San Francisco started their next drive essentially at mid-field, and drove down to even the score at seven, the first of three unanswered touchdowns to wrap up the first half.
That final touchdown proved to be the most regrettable for Arizona as head coach Kliff Kingsbury called a timeout just before what would have been a fourth-and-goal stop at the one. Immediately following that miscue, Jimmy Garoppolo completed a quick touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders to go up by two scores.
Arizona was able to make a game of it late and bring it within three points, but that called timeout to later help them score a touchdown by Kingsbury proved too closely.
Play of the game
With 14 seconds to play in the opening quarter, San Francisco was at the Arizona 30 and Jimmy Garoppolo hit tight end George Kittle, who broke two tackles to scamper in for the touchdown and even the score at seven.
What made Kittle's touchdown and overall performance on Thursday even more special was that he was doing it after he banged his left knee off the helmet of Cardinals defensive end Chandlers Jones on the 49ers' first offensive play of the game. Kittle was limited late in this contest due to that injury, but he was able to finish with six catches for 79 yards and that touchdown, which opened up the scoring for San Francisco.
Kyler Murray's laser 88-yard touchdown to second-round rookie Andy Isabella in the fourth quarter of this is an honorable mention.
"I wanted them to hopefully burn their best play. They ran a play and it worked for us initially, but the obviously, looking back on it, would have rather gotten that stop. Just didn't work out for us this time" - Kliff Kingsbury on calling the timeout before halftime.
This is a sound strategy by Kingsbury as he was looking for the 49ers to blow their best goal-line play, but it simply didn't fall his way tonight.
The 49ers will try to move to 9-0 on the season when they host their NFC West rival in the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football. After playing on Thursday, San Francisco will have some extended rest leading up to this pivotal divisional matchup. As for the Cardinals, They'll travel to Tampa Bay for a contest against the Buccaneers.