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49ers takeaways: What we learned in gritty 28-25 win over Cardinals

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49ers takeaways: What we learned in gritty 28-25 win over Cardinals

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GLENDALE, Ariz. – If the 49ers can beat the Arizona Cardinals, something special must be brewing.

The 49ers on Thursday night snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Cardinals with a 28-25 victory. Not since Jim Harbaugh’s last game, the finale of the 2014 season, have the 49ers won against Arizona.

That streak includes last season, when the Cardinals won just three games the entire season and were granted the No. 1 overall draft pick as the worst team in the league. Arizona beat the 49ers twice.

The Cardinals selected quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick, while the 49ers went with defensive end Nick Bosa at No. 2. The 49ers maintained its lead in the NFC West, improving to 8-0 on the season.

Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers’ victory in Week 8:

Yes, Garoppolo can throw the ball

Is there still a question about whether Jimmy Garoppolo can hold up his end of the bargain?

When the 49ers’ run game got off to a rough start on Thursday, Garoppolo tossed the ball around the field to exploit the Cardinals’ young secondary.

In the 49ers’ first 21 offensive plays, Garoppolo completed 11 of 13 passes for 142 yards while the run game was sputtering along with just 18 yards on eight rushing attempts.

In the first half, Garoppolo completed 17 of 21 pass attempts for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He hit seven different receivers, including Emmanuel Sanders, who caught all five targets in the first half for 74 yards.

Two of his better throws came in the third quarter. He got rid of the ball early to avoid the rush. He dropped in a 22-yard pass to Sanders on a third-and-4 play past Baker and just as Sanders was turning to look for the ball. Three plays later, he again threw in anticipation and capitalized on a defensive mix-up for a 21-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis.

Garoppolo finished his night, completing 28 of 37 pass attempts for 317 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Kittle, the man who makes it happen

The 49ers’ season could have taken a dramatic turn on the first offensive play of the game when tight end George Kittle went down with an injury.

On a run play in which Kittle was blocking to the left, Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones came crashing from the opposite direction and inadvertently hit Kittle in the left knee. Kittle exited for the remainder of the drive.

Trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, the needed a spark, and Kittle was just the man to provide it. He lined up in the right slot, beat free safety Budda Baker off the line of scrimmage to catch a pass over the middle. After making another man miss, Kittle tossed Baker aside near the goal line for a 30-yard touchdown.

Kittle had a score to settle with Baker, who was particularly animated on the series prior to that one when he broke up a third-down pass intended for Kittle. His play seemed to energize the team, which was a crucial element when returning to action on a short week.

Kittle finished with six receptions for 79 yards.

Alexander's injury cause for concern

Linebacker Kwon Alexander has played an important role on the 49ers with his speed, energy and playmaking ability. But there is definite reason for concern when he left the game in the fourth quarter with a chest injury.

The 49ers’ defense was not as sound as in previous weeks, but it still played a major role the club’s eighth consecutive victory to open the season. Three of the past four games have opened with the opposing offense marching down the field against the 49ers’ defense, which entered Thursday ranked No. 1 in the NFL.

The Cardinals moved the ball 71 yards on six plays, getting off to a strong start when newly acquired running back Kenyan Drake tore off a 36-yard run on the first play of the game. Drake ended the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

But the 49ers’ defense dominated for the remainder of the half, until Arizona scored another touchdown on their first drive of the third quarter.

The pass rush generally did a good job of keeping Kyler Murray in check. Dee Ford, Dre Greenlaw and DeForest Buckner registered sacks.

The experience of defending Murray could be good practice for facing Russell Wilson. The 49ers return to action in Week 10 in a key NFC West matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, Nov. 11, at Levi’s Stadium.

NFL unveils new Oakley mouth shield recommended for coronavirus safety

NFL unveils new Oakley mouth shield recommended for coronavirus safety

Sports around the world are going to great lengths to try and keep athletes safe as they return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. For professional football, teams like the 49ers face a litany of difficulties when it comes to trying to operate a standard NFL game while adhering to California's social distancing guidelines.

The NFL unveiled one idea on Monday, the Oakley Mouth Shield, which hypothetically would be worn on the field and help reduce the spread of the virus.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The NFL's chief medical officer hasn't formally mandated the use of face masks for players just yet, but he is encouraging the concept.

"That's certainly what we're going to encourage," Dr. Allen Sills told ESPN. "And we hope that we're going to land on a product design that's something that everyone would want to wear, because they'll see the value and want that additional protection without any detriment to performance."

The masks already are being put into practice with the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, two teams who train nearby Oakley's international headquarters.

49ers tight end George Kittle recently questioned how players will be able to stay safe between the lines this fall during a conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area.

"Whether your lockers are six feet apart or not, you still have to get in a huddle and I still have to block Nick Bosa and I still have block Arik Armstead in camp," Kittle told Matt Maiocco on the "49ers Insider Podcast." "It's hard to social distance when you're on the line of scrimmage. That's the one thing I'm most interested in seeing how it plays out."

[RELATED: Ex-49er sees Jamal Adams as next Richard Sherman-type face of NFL]

Some players around the league already have expressed their doubts about the proposed face masks.

"My second year in the league I thought it'd be cool, I put a visor on my helmet," Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt told ProFootballTalk. "I was like, 'It looks so cool, I wanna put a visor on.' I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, 'Take this sucker off -- I'm gonna die out here.' ... So now you're gonna put something around my mouth? You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don't think you're gonna see me on the field."

Just like the countrywide pushback we've seen to mask mandates in the U.S., an NFL directive for players to apply these masks to their helmets likely would be met with mixed feelings. We've seen numerous players from the NBA and MLB withdraw from their season restarts over safety concerns, there could begin to be NFL players entertaining the same idea if they don't feel protected from potential contamination

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo snubbed in Madden 21 top quarterback rankings

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo snubbed in Madden 21 top quarterback rankings

This is getting ridiculous. No love for Jimmy Garoppolo … again?

That’s right -- the 49ers’ quarterback isn't one of the 10 best at his position in Madden NFL 21, as some details have been leaked Monday. 

Sure, it’s tough to share company with stars like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, but come on.

The guy helped lead the 49ers to 13 wins and Super Bowl LIV last season -- and that was one year after a torn ACL injury. 

This comes off Jimmy G receiving only two top-10 votes during a poll on ESPN where NFL executives, coaches, scouts and players were asked to pick their top-10 quarterbacks currently in the game. JUST TWO.

This week, ESPN will be revealing the player ratings beginning Monday. The ratings are decided by the Madden NFL Ratings Performance Adjustors which calculates a number of ratings in every player which for quarterbacks include speed, acceleration, agility rating, awareness rating, throw power rating, break sack rating, throw under pressure rating, play-action rating and throw on the run rating. 

This isn’t the first time Garoppolo has been overlooked either, not by far. His teammates have come to his defense before because they were the ones who see him put work in.

George Kittle specifically has spoken against some of the criticisms

Kittle also was snubbed in the recent Madden ratings having not been made a member of the prestigious “99 Club” despite arguably being the best tight end in the league.

Garoppolo was one of the leaders of the team that began the 2019 season 8-0 and also was the only quarterback to rank in the top five in yards per attempt (8.4), passing touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (69.1). 

[RELATED: Kittle questions how football could be played while social distancing]

In his first full season under coach Kyle Shanahan, Garoppolo accumulated 3,978 passing yards, a 102.0 passer rating and tossed 13 interceptions.

Put some respect on the name.