49ers overcome sluggish start to pummel Cardinals in 38-13 rout

Jan 8, 2023, 6:59 PM
JANUARY 08: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after scoring a touchdown durin...
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 08: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Despite a sluggish start, the 49ers finished Sunday with a blowout, pulling their starters with more than a quarter left in Week 18.

San Francisco overcame a lackluster first quarter to run through the Arizona Cardinals, 38-13, in a Week 18 rout. The home side finished with 311 total yards, while the visitors were held to just 255 yards. But the scoreline may be deceiving to some, as this game wasn’t a blowout to start.

With the Cardinals receiving the ball first, quarterback David Blough drove his team down the field in two plays. On the second play of the game, the Cardinals ran a trick-play, pitching the ball to wide receiver Pharaoh Cooper before he gave the ball back to his QB. Blough then launches the ball towards WR A.J. Green, leaping over cornerback Demmodore Lenoir for the big reception. Running past safety Tashaun Gipson, Green scored from 77 yards.

6-0 in favor of the Cardinals.

The 49ers responded immediately, going down the field in six plays to take the lead. To cap off the drive, QB Brock Purdy hit running back Christian McCaffrey on a screen pass. Weaving his way through blockers, CMC found the endzone from 21-yards away get his team on the board, 7-6.

Both sides struggled to score for the remainder of the first quarter, six series ending in either a punt or a turnover on downs forced by the Red & Gold.

The next score came after a gift from Blough to the 49ers’ secondary. Trying to work a play-action pas to the outside, the Cardinals’ QB lofted the ball to his receiver, overthrowing it into the hands of safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. Now inside the redzone to start the drive, San Francisco found the endzone three plays later thanks to RB Elijah Mitchell, knifing his way in from five yards out.

14-6 San Francisco.

Arizona wouldn’t go away though, marching down the field on the next possession. Going 12-plays, 75 yards, the cardinals finished off a seven-minute drive with RB Corey Clement running it in for the one-yard score.

Now faced with less than five minutes in the half, Purdy and the offense came up clutch. The first play of the drive was an explosive, hitting WR Brandon Aiyuk for a big gain of 22 yards. The CMC got in on the action, getting a 10-yard run for a first, and then a securing a catch to maintain the drive on the next series of downs. A few plays later, WR Deebo Samuel got in on the action, getting SF inside the five-yard line.

Facing little time remaining in the half, Purdy found tight end George Kittle for his first of two scores Sunday, hitting him in the back of the endzone for the toe-tap TD. 21-13 SF going into the break.

Coming out of halftime, the 49ers looked a different team, going on a 17-0 run in the second half.

Marching down the field once again, Purdy & Co. found the endzone after seven plays. After big explosives by Aiyuk and McCaffrey, Mitchell got his biggest play of the game, going for 37 yards down the right sideline before getting tackled at the six-yard-line. The next play, Mitchell finished the drive with a powerful run into the endzone.

With momentum on their side, the 49ers’ defense came to life, forcing another Tashaun Gipson INT by Blough. Then on the next series, defensive lineman Jordan Willis strip-sacked the Cardinals QB, forcing the team’s third takeaway of Week 18.

Offensively, the 49ers capitalized with points off of every single turnover. This time they got their final TD of the day when Purdy found Kittle from one-yard out to put the 49ers up 38-13 late in the third quarter.

With the game in hand, head coach Kyle Shanahan pulled his starters up big. The 49ers rode their opponents’ best efforts and made the fourth quarter go by in a breeze. Throw in another pick by special-teamer George Odum and that was all she wrote in Santa Clara.

The 49ers finish the regular season on a 10-game win streak, the longest forth franchise since 1997’s 11-game stint. The Red & Gold also didn’t lose to their divisional opponents for the first time since 1997.

Now slotted as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the 49ers will play either the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks in Wild-Card weekend. Despite the team not losing a game since Week 7, San Francisco is looking at the playoffs as a blank slate,  knowing that the real work starts now.

“In my opinion, the 10-game win streak is awesome. It’s really fun but it means nothing now at this point,” Kittle said postgame. “Hopefully guys are 100% focused on just football and extracurricular activities are kind of pushed to the side whether it’s friends, family, whatever it is. How about we just hunker down and focus on these next four or five weeks, wherever it is.”

The 49ers will need rookie Brock Purdy to step his game up as well. The last pick in the draft finished with 178 passing yards and three TDs Sunday, making him the first rookie QB since Dan Marino to throw for two TDs in his first five starts. Making plays left and right, Purdy’s ascension has surprised everyone, including teammates.

Sure the team knew he had it in him, but to go out there and perform at this high of a level, that’s another thing entirely.

“It’s something that is incredible for Mr. Irrelevant to lead a team like we have into the postseason now on our way to try to earn a Super Bowl. And knowing that we have full confidence in achieving that with him, it’s truly impressive,” linebacker Fred Warner said about Purdy.

“I know other guys played the entire season but for a rookie quarterback to come in and play the way he has, that’s pretty special and I don’t really know anyone else who has played at the level he’s played at,” Kittle added about his QB.

As for the defense, they took it to another level in the second half, shutting out yet another opponent. Defensive end Nick Bosa was great again, finishing the day with two tackles and one sack to bring his total to a league-leading 18.5 on the season.

Despite not breaking the franchise record, Bosa has his eyes set on a world title, fully locked in for the next month of football.

“I won’t do anything different,” Bosa said Sunday. “Because I’ve been a hermit for quite some time…I sit on my couch and fill my game-ready machine with ice, prop my legs up and watch shows, and go to bed at 8:30, and wake up and get to work.”


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