I guess everyone saw the 49ers’ 20-12 victory over the Cardinals come, right?
At kickoff, we had the Flounder 5-9 Niners, losers of the last three in a row, and defeated in six of the previous seven. They were on a month-long camping trip to Arizona. They had so many injuries that the team bus is an ambulance. They were rejected for the playoffs last week. They basically played for exercise.
Opposite them stood 8-6 Cardinals, formerly known as the NFL’s next big thing, but now considered more in the middle of the pack. Still, they were definitely in the playoffs, had an electric talent in QB Kyler Murray, and it was expected that the motivation was sky high because this was a clear, must-win game. They had also already beaten SF, 24-20, in the first game of the season.
And the scrubbers won.
Not only that, despite the proximity of the score, the Bay Area side clearly looked like the better team. It was definitely a moment-moment-moment where you have to question your preconceived notions. Because much of what happened came out of nowhere. E.g:
CJ Beathard, a third-string quarterback so easily considered that Kyle Shanahan previously struggled to put him in the final two games, despite Nick Mullens basically setting himself on fire, starting and throwing three touchdown passes and none wiretaps. Of course he did.
Jeff Wilson, an undrafted and uheralded runner back who went to college in North Texas (it’s a school, not a place) ran the ball 22 times. With the 49ers in 2019, he ran a total of 105 yards throughout the normal season. In this game he hurried to 183.
“It felt like every race was a gash,” Beathard said after the match.
Wilson also got a touchdown pass. Tell me you had him on your fantasy team.
Ahkello Witherspoon, the insanely inconsistent cornerback, probably voted to be described as in Shanahan’s “dog house”, made a game-saving interception in the final zone. And everywhere in the Bay Area, the believers turned to someone next to them and said, “You know if he can keep playing at this level. . . ”
It was just things you did not expect. Next, you would say that relentlessly effective Robbie Gould missed three kicks. (He did. And one was an extra point.)
But let’s focus on the positive. How did this happen?
First, we have no idea. Teams rise unexpectedly and win games like this. It happens every year. But there are always some factors that make it more likely.
First, the defense is proud of itself as the team’s strength. For linebacker Fred Warner to make his first Pro Bowl, the effort validates. Warner will also send a thank you note to analyst Tony Romo. Back in October, Romo called him the best center linebacker in the game. Others noticed it.
Also, the Robert Saleh show continues to earn raves. Saleh is TV’s hot side shot for every game with the mandatory mention that he is a first-time candidate for a head coach job. When his defense plays and he can see jumping in the air on the sideline, the intensity increases and his stock goes up.
Commentator Matt Maiocco called Saturday’s game a three-hour job interview, which was well worded.
It’s also true that even though it looks like eons ago, this is a team that was in the Super Bowl less than a year ago. A core of the list played in critical games during the season and in the playoffs. It is an experience that holds on to you. Granted, the team has not won, but it still has players and coaches who know how to do it.
And let’s just say, the George Kittle effect is real. He appeared in his post-game interview in a crisp “The Joker” T-shirt and took questions as a veteran improviser. You can not help but smile.
“Just having Kittle in training is different,” Shanahan said. “It feels different.”
Limited to 28 snaps, he got the most out of them. On his first game from scrimmage, he took a defensive leg out with a low block that planted him with his face. He also caught four passes in 92 yards and flashed the running cement car running style. Again, you can not help but smile.
As for Beathard, Shanahan should start him against Seattle, right? At one point, I thought about coming up with the case that if Jimmy Garoppolo was healthy, a final start could be worth it. If he played well, it could possibly silence some of his critics, and if he did not. . . Well, maybe we should take another look.
But you can not stop a story like this. You got Beathard to come in, almost a year ago, when his brother Clay died in a stabbing incident outside a bar and played pretty well. He threw only 22 passes and in fewer than 200 yards, but no interceptions. He even started a couple of races.
“I can’t imagine what CJ and his family have been through,” Kittle said. “But I knew that if he had a chance, he would play inspired.”
CJ deserves another start.
In the meantime, we might want to call the hype machine on the Arizona QB Murray on the other side line. We hear again about how mobile quarterbacks are the hot new thing. And yes, Murray slipped more than once from the pass to win a first down.
But the 49ers seemed to be planning what other teams started doing with Colin Kaepernick. They tried to prevent Murray from getting to the sideline. They pulled him back in the middle where the buttocks are. Murray had just over 70 yards but was relatively contained.
Also, for all peak runs, a quarterback must make smart throws at the right time. Murray’s interception in the final five minutes, followed by just eight, was unforgivable.
First, he was in the red zone by the 49ers ’14. It was also second place down, so if nothing was open, threw the ball away, it was definitely Plan B. who was closely covered by Witherspoon. A ballad’s weather balloon never had a chance. Witherspoon collected it and the game was essentially over. It was such a bad throw that you would probably see a professional do.
Just a reminder, 49er fans, sometimes even the hot, young quarterbacks have something to do. For those of you who want to replace Jimmy G. with some flashy QB running a 4.3 40. Be careful what you want.