The San Francisco 49ers were designated the road team for Monday night’s 38-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City, but Estadio Azteca teemed with Niners fans who buzzed from start to finish during the blowout.
“I love San Francisco, but if we couldn’t be there, I’d love to be here,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game, via The Mercury News. “This place is awesome. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been a part of. We were told it might be like that but it was even better than we expected.”
Following a tight first half, the 49ers blew the doors off in the second, scoring three touchdowns and not allowing an opponent to score in the final two quarters for the third straight game. The deluge turned a 17-10 game into a 38-10 laugher, and the 49ers fans in Mexico City rocked.
“I saw the game in Germany and those fans were just so happy for football to be there,” said Niners tight end George Kittle, who put up 84 yards and two TDs.
“Coming down here, I know it was mostly Niners fans, too, so I knew the fans were going to show out. The reception that we got at the hotel last night was incredible. The fans all day here tonight were fantastic. It just had a completely different energy to it. You could tell how much it meant to each and every single fan that was there. And the lights show in the fourth quarter was probably one of the coolest moments of my career.”
The 49ers outclassed Arizona in every facet, including looking like the fresher team after spending the past week in Colorado to help prepare for the altitude in Mexico City.
“Yeah, the altitude is real. I think it would take a year-plus to get any used to that,” edge rusher Nick Bosa said. “It was brutal. It was like three full-speed reps and you’re hurting. But it does get better throughout the game, and I think we did a great job of sticking with it. I think our offense looked really good wind-wise. So, it was good. It was fun. I mean, that was one of the coolest atmospheres I’ve ever played in.”
It’s nearly impossible to separate the fact that the Niners are a better team in all facets right now than Arizona from the impact of the elevation. But anecdotally, it seemed the Cardinals ran out of gas in the second half.
Cards head coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose team didn’t do anything special to prepare for the elevation, dismissed that playing at 7,000-plus feet was a “game-changer.”
“I didn’t feel gassed,” linebacker Markus Golden added. “I really can’t answer that. They made some big plays in the second half. I thought we were going to make it a tough game, but we couldn’t do it.”
The 49ers, however, believe their time in Colorado allowed them to run away late.
“John York got the game ball,” Bosa said. “Just for him to put us in that situation and spend the money that you have to spend to do something like that is why the Niners are a winning franchise.”
The 49ers won their third straight game to move to 6-4 and overtake Seattle for the NFC West lead.
2022 NFL season, Week 11: What We Learned from 49ers’ win over Cardinals on Monday night
The catch-and-run Niners race to victory.
One of the top yards-after-catch teams in the NFL thrived against one of the league’s worst at preventing additional yards from being gained after receptions. Just take a look at two of San Francisco’s touchdowns Monday night: a 39-yard reception for George Kittle on a play in which he was expected to gain four yards after catch, but ended up with 18, and a 32-yard reception for Kittle in which the tight end picked up every yard on the play after the catch. San Francisco finished with 153 receiving yards gained after the catch, according to Next Gen Stats, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of their total yards in the game. That’s been the 49ers’ modus operandi for this entire season, helping them to a ninth-place ranking in big plays and sixth in yards per play entering Monday night, and they didn’t deviate in Week 11.
Kyle Shanahan’s backfield rotation works like a charm.
Christian McCaffrey began the night as San Francisco’s lead back, taking all but two of the 49ers’ seven first-half carries and gaining 6.2 yards per attempt. It was strange to see McCaffrey dominate the snap counts for 49ers running backs, but by the third quarter, Shanahan’s approach was evident: He rode McCaffrey in the first half, then relied on trusty back Elijah Mitchell to close the game out against a weary Cardinals defense playing at the 7,200-foot altitude in Mexico City. The two shared carries nearly evenly (nine for Mitchell, seven for McCaffrey), and a dash of Deebo Samuel (three carries) produced 37 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run around the left end. San Francisco’s acquisition of McCaffrey has paid off and made this team that much more difficult to defend, because of the many directions in which it can go offensively.
Arizona’s offense is no match for defenses like San Francisco’s.
The Cardinals have reached a point of critical mass in terms of offensive talent. Zach Ertz and Marquise Brown were already out entering Monday night, and the loss of Rondale Moore to a groin injury meant Colt McCoy had only DeAndre Hopkins, the underutilized A.J. Green, and Greg Dortch at his disposal. Surprisingly, Arizona converted 8 of 16 third downs, but it wasn’t shocking to see the Cardinals — playing with a patchwork offensive line — struggle to sustain drives throughout the night. Robbie Anderson is a nonfactor in an offense in which he should play at least a secondary role, and there aren’t many solutions available to fix things, if any. The best the Cardinals can hope for is a healthy return of Kyler Murray and Moore, and that still might not be enough to wake up an offense that has disappointed for much of 2022. It certainly wasn’t impressive against San Francisco’s top-ranked defense.
The Cardinals have a lot to clean up.
Defensively, Arizona has some studs on the field, but the sum of its parts is simply not good enough, especially against a 49ers team that feasts on opponents who struggle to tackle in the open field. Samuel’s touchdown run was a perfect example of this disadvantage for Arizona, as was Kittle’s second touchdown, in which he knifed through Arizona’s defense down the sideline for a decisive touchdown. As seen in HBO’s Hard Knocks: In Season, Budda Baker already let his teammates know he’s tired of losing. Monday night won’t help ease his anger, especially after missed tackles and poor pursuit angles resulted in a handful of touchdowns for the superior 49ers. Time is running out on these Cardinals, and they might already be too far behind to catch up to the first-place 49ers and the 6-4 Seattle Seahawks.
Keep a close eye on the 49ers.
San Francisco looks as strong as ever right now, and the 49ers appear poised to move to 7-4 next week when they face the 3-8 Saints. Tests await them, of course, in the form of meetings with Miami and Tampa Bay before a rematch with the Seahawks in Seattle. We’ll know more about the state of this team after those games are played, but right now the 49ers seem to be good enough to beat anyone. San Francisco closes out the regular season with a trio of games against Washington, Las Vegas and Arizona, and at least on paper, the 49ers look like they’re headed toward a double-digit win total. Set the minimum at 10 and prepare for more; this team is trending toward becoming a serious contender in a wide-open NFC.
Next Gen stat of the game:
Jimmy Garoppolo completed 13 of 17 passes for 149 yards and four touchdowns when targeting in-breaking routes Monday night, the most such touchdown passes of Garoppolo’s career, the most in any game this season and tying for the most in the Next Gen era (dating back to 2016).
Jimmy Garoppolo threw for four touchdowns in a game for the first time since Week 14 of the 2019 season. The 49ers won the NFC title that season before falling in heartbreaking fashion to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.