SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers struggled last season against the Arizona Cardinals. And that’s when the 49ers were the best team in the NFC and the Cardinals were the worst team in the NFC West.
So there was no reason to expect the 49ers to steamroll the Cardinals on Sunday. But they probably did not expect this, either.
The 49ers got off to a hot start, then floundered, allowing the Cardinals enough openings for a 24-20 victory in Week 1 at Levi’s Stadium.
The game was played in front of no fans due to the coronavirus pandemic and in “unhealthy” air due to the California wildfires.
The 49ers took the lead after falling behind when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo found Jerick McKinnon out of the backfield for a 5-yard touchdown with 8:38 remaining for a 20-17 lead.
McKinnon missed his first two seasons with the 49ers due to a torn ACL and complications from the original surgery. He made an impact in his first game since 2017 while with the Minnesota Vikings.
But the Cardinals came right back to score the winning touchdown with 5:03 minutes remaining.
Here are three takeaways from the 49ers' season-opening loss.
Kittle with another scare
Tight end George Kittle is the 49ers’ best player. They cannot afford to lose him. And for the second time in two seasons against the Cardinals, they got a big scare.
Kittle caught four passes for 44 yards in the first half before leaving for the locker room late in the second quarter after an apparent left leg injury. Kittle jumped for a high Jimmy Garoppolo pass to the left side of the field.The tight end was hit around his waist by safety Budda Baker just as he was landing. His left knee appeared to hyperextend.
Kittle went to the sideline after the second-down play. Then, he walked to the locker room before the end of the first half, accompanied by Dr. Tim McAdams.
Even then, Kittle was in good humor.
Because there were fans allowed at Levi’s Stadium, he could hear all of the photographers taking pictures of him as he left the field.
“That’s a lot of clicks,” he said, according to a photographer on the scene. “I am not that interesting.”
Kittle returned to action to open the second half, but did not catch a pass the rest of the way. He was not targeted, either.
Last season, Kittle sustained left knee and ankle injuries on the first play of the first game against the Cardinals. He ended up playing 48 more snaps in that game, but was sidelined for the 49ers’ next two games.
No answers for Murray
The Cardinals chose quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft ahead of the 49ers' selection of Nick Bosa.
On Sunday, the 49ers had no answer for Murray – not Bosa, not anybody else.
Murray provided the Cardinals with their first lead of the game with 10:26 remaining in regulation with a 22-yard scamper. He gave them the lead again when he found a wide-open DeAndre Hopkins on a crossing pattern for a 33-yard gain to the goal line. Running back Kenyan Drake punched it over from there for the touchdown.
The 49ers registered only one sack of Murray, and that came from backup defensive end Kerry Hyder.
Hopkins, in his Cardinals debut, caught 14 passes on 16 passes thrown his way for 151 yards.
Murray rushed for 100 yards on 11 carries before two kneeldowns at the end went for minus-10 yards. He completed 26 of 40 passes for 230 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Mostert makes first NFL start
Raheem Mostert played in his 51st NFL game on Sunday. And it was the first start of his career, which has seen him see action with five different clubs.
Mostert asserted himself as the 49ers’ top back late last season, and there is little dispute where he stands on the depth chart after one game of the 2020 season.
The speedster supplied an early highlight when he left Cardinals rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons flat-footed as he ran a route out of the backfield. Mostert hauled in Garoppolo’s short pass over the middle and turned it into a 76-yard touchdown.
Mostert gained 56 yards rushing on 13 carries, and he caught four passes for 95 yards.