The San Francisco 49ers played spoiler to the Arizona Cardinals postseason hopes with a 20-12 victory, earning their first win at State Farm Stadium since relocating in Week 13. Here are six takeaways from the contest.
1. Defensive Notes
Despite being shorthanded, San Francisco's defense battled to keep Kyler Murray and Co. in check. Richard Sherman (calf), Jimmie Ward (concussion), Javon Kinlaw (knee) and several other defensive players were out in Saturday's contest, but the defense remained steady, making several standout plays while holding Arizona out of the end zone for nearly the entirety of the contest.
Here are a few highlights from the 49ers defensive performance against the Cardinals:
- San Francisco started off the contest hot. Arizona managed to march downfield to open the contest, however, a string to plays by backups Marcell Harris, Tarvarius Moore and Ahkello Witherspoon kept the Cardinals high-powered offense out of the end zone and having to settle for three.
- Fred Warner registered the 49ers first takeaway of the day on a tackle against Cardinals tight end Dan Arnold. Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair brought down the tight end as the ball loosened on his way to the ground. The linebacker continued his All-Pro campaign, batting down a fourth down pass in the fourth quarter that gave San Francisco's offense possession inside Cardinals territory. Warner finished the game leading the 49ers with 14 tackles, eight solo.
- In the 49ers first meeting against the Cardinals, the 49ers had no answer for DeAndre Hopkins, who registered 151 yards on 14 receptions. It was a completely different story in Week 16, in part due to cornerback Jason Verrett. Verrett registered a huge pass breakup on a go-ahead touchdown from Murray to Hopkins before the half. He also kept Hopkins from converting on the Cardinals final fourth down play to seal the victory. Hopkins was limited to just eight receptions for 48 yards on Saturday.
- The play of the game came with under five minutes left in the contest with Arizona in scoring position. On 2nd-and-11 from the 49ers 11-yard line, Murray took a shot in the back of the end zone on a pass intended for Christian Kirk, as Witherspoon, who got the start in place of Sherman, jumped ahead of the receiver for the interception.
"The ups and downs Ahkello has been through this year and the way he's been playing the last two weeks, the way he played today, says a lot about the guy," Shanahan said postgame. "We had a few guys get hurt so he got his opportunity again. And because of the way he handled himself when adversity struck, that's why he was ready for this opportunity. He helped us last week. Helped us big time again today, and that'll help him in his career, too."
- K'Waun Williams was another defensive standout. The nickel corner registered a sack against Murray, his second of the season and sixth of his career. The corner got to Murray on a blitz for a loss of seven yards. He also deflected a pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald that fell incomplete.
- Kerry Hyder Jr. and D.J. Jones also recorded sacks. Hyder Jr. registered his team-leading 8.5 sack on the season. Jones now has 3.0 on the year.
2. Limiting Kyler
Just a week ago, Murray put up a 400-yard, four-total touchdown performance while averaging more than 11 yards per attempt against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a different story on Saturday as San Francisco's defense held the quarterback to 60 percent passing for 247 yards, no touchdowns and an interception for a season-low passer rating of 66.0. The 49ers limited Arizona to 4.4 yards per play and 25 percent on third downs. The quarterback still managed to put up 75 yards on the ground, including his 30-yard pickup prior to Witherspoon's interception.
3. Beathard Under Center
In his first start of the season, C.J. Beathard put up a three touchdown performance while completing 13-of-22 passes for 192 yards and no interceptions. The quarterback threw touchdowns to Jeff Wilson Jr. and Kyle Juszczyk (2) and connected with seven different receivers on the day.
The quarterback also picked up 18 yards on the ground on two designed runs.
"I thought C.J. played awesome. I thought he made some plays in the pass game. He did a good job on the zone reads," Shanahan said. "Just his leadership out there - the way the guys gravitated to him. You could feel it during the week at practice. He came in on Wednesday when he first got his reps, just so ready to go. I think you could tell how hard they played for him too. I was very impressed with C.J. and I'm very happy for him today."
San Francisco's offense finished the day with 398 yards of total offense on just 55 offensive plays (to Arizona's 80) while averaging 7.2 yards per play.
4. Kittle's Return
Beathard benefited from having his former Hawkeyes tight end on the field on Saturday, as Kittle led the 49ers pass catchers in his first game back since Week 8. Kittle finished the day hauling in 4-of-5 catches for 92 yards. The tight end embraced contact, forcing defenders to miss while picking up yards after contact.
Kittle was also key in the 49ers run game, helping open up holes for Jeff Wilson Jr.'s career day (see below).
"Everyone sees on the field what it means to us, how good of a player he is in the run game and in the pass game. Just having him at practice is different," Shanahan said. "We knew just getting him a part of us and dressing him today would be able to help a ton. With just what he was able to do even statistically in the pass game and always in the run game, I can't say enough about George."
5. Have a Day, JWJ
With Raheem Mostert done for the remainder of the season, Wilson Jr. took the load as San Francisco's lead back and put up a career performance. Wilson finished the day with a career-high 183-yards rushing on 22 carries and hauled in a 21-yard reception for a touchdown, his eighth score of the season.
Wilson Jr.'s 204 yards from scrimmage were the most by a 49ers running back since Frank Gore in 2009. (Week 2 vs. the Seattle Seahawks – 207 yards)
San Francisco's 227 rushing yards was their largest output of the season.
6. Injury Update
Jordan Willis suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the game and did not return. Several other 49ers left the game with injuries, however returned.