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.