With a 38-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers started their season with a 4-0 record against the NFC West for the first time since 2002. The win also moves the 49ers to 6-4, and with their own tiebreaker with the Seahawks takes them to the top of the NFC West.
Arizona’s biggest lead of the night was just three points, and even then, they held that lead for just 13 1/2 minutes into the first quarter. From then on, they’ve all been 49ers.
These are the five winners and one loser in a night the 49ers extended their hitting streak to three.
Loser: Kickoff returns
This series of articles is titled winners and losers, so let’s catch up a bit and start with the only loser since Monday night to hit this self-imposed quota.
Both Robbie Gould and Matt Prater took full advantage of the 7,200-foot elevation of the Estadio Azteca as the two kickers combined for eight touchbacks on eight kickoffs in the game. To make matters worse, all kickoffs went from the back of the endzone, so there wasn’t even a glimmer of kickback.
In a weekend where Cordarelle Patterson broke the record for most career starting touchdowns, 49ers and Cardinals fans were also robbed of just one return.
Winner: CB Charvarius Ward
Although DeAndre Hopkins’ stats wouldn’t suggest it, with nine receptions for 91 yards, Ward was perhaps one of the best players on defense for the 49ers. After playing exclusively on the left side of the 49ers defense this season, Ward has been tasked with switching sides as Hopkins has played 232 of 291 snaps he has coming in Monday on the right side of defense.
Six of Hopkin’s nine receptions were held to 10 yards or less, not only by Ward’s tight coverage, but by Ward’s tackling as well. Ward finished with ten team tackles Monday night, nine of them solo and one resulting in a loss. Ward didn’t let much slip by, with seven of his ten tackles coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Winner: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo continued to own the Cardinals with his performance of 228 yards and four touchdowns Monday night. It marked Garoppolo’s first four-touchdown game since a famous 48-46 win over the Saints in 2019.
While the four touchdowns might be what stands out the most in the box score, his zero in the interceptions column should be just as great, with Monday marking the first time he went three straight games without an interception for the first time as a 49er. The 49ers are now up 6-0 this season in games where Garoppolo finishes without an interception and has had six touchdown passes in his last three games.
Winner: 49ers first down defense
The 49ers defense as a whole was phenomenal all night, but they especially excelled on first down. Seven of the Cardinals’ 26 first down plays resulted in negative yards, with the biggest loss coming on Nick Bosa’s sack of Colt McCoy late in the first half.
Arizona just totaled 70 yards on first downs, averaging 2.69 yards per game on first downs, meaning they played behind the sticks on second down for most of the game. Even then, that number is inflated as 36 of 70 yards came as Trace McSorely and Arizona’s second-team offense came into the game. That means Arizona starters averaged 1.6 yards on 21 first down plays, with six of the 21 games resulting in negative yardage.
Winner: WR Deebo Samuel
Monday night was the prototype for Deebo Samuel’s big game. Samuel finished the game with 57 receiving yards on seven receptions and 37 yards on three rushes and a touchdown. Samuel was nearly untouched (Budda Baker just put a hand on Samuel just before Samuel crossed the goal line) on an end-around 39-yard touchdown run, the longest run of his career.
The touchdown appeared to be the game-ending play, despite coming with 10:34 left in the third quarter, to put the 49ers up 24-10. It was also the most total yards Samuel had in a game since the 49ers were last on Monday Night Football, when he torched the Rams for 117 yards during Week 4.
Winner: TE George Kittle
On a night where he met AEW Penta wrestler El Zero M (creator of Kittle’s famous first down celebration) and received a custom Penta 49ers mask, Kittle had the best game of his season, finishing with four receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
His two touchdowns were two of the three longest plays on the 49ers offense, with the first being a 39-yard touchdown in the second quarter to make it 14-3 and the second a 32-yard touchdown to extend the lead. 49ers at 38. -10 to start the fourth quarter. Monday night was only the second time Kittle has finished with more than one touchdown in a game, the first coming last season against Seattle in Week 13.