49ers for real? Maybe
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Are the San Francisco 49ers for real?
That's a matter of opinion.
The 49ers, though, have for real hit the midway point of the NFL's regular season at 8-0 after a 28-25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Thursday at State Farm Stadium.
The victory wasn't secure until San Francisco converted a pair of third-down plays on its final possession after the Cardinals (3-5-1) rallied from a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit.
"I'm glad we were able to pull that off — 7-1 wouldn't have felt nearly as good," third-year head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "You're only as good as your last game. We're real excited about being 8-0, but that doesn't mean anything other than we can enjoy our couple of days off a little more."
After a 36-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal closed San Francisco's lead to 28-17 with 9:24 to play, Arizona stunned the 49es with an 88-yard scoring play from rookie quarterback Kyler Murray to fleet Andy Isabella. Murray hit Kenyan Drake for the two-point conversion and the 49ers' advantage was a precarious 28-25 with 4:53 to play.
Jimmy Garopollo then came through twice, the first on third-and-11 from the San Francisco 25, when he found Emmanuel Sanders for 16 yards and a first down. Moments later, on third-and-9 from the Arizona 48, Garoppolo connected with Ross Dwelley for 11 yards to ice the verdict.
Garoppolo completed 28 of 37 passes for a season-high 317 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
"He played great," Shanahan said. "He made a lot of plays in rhythm; he made a lot of off-schedule plays. (The Cardinals) had a great pass rush and some real tight coverages, but Jimmy played a hell of a game — his best of the year."
Despite San Francisco's gaudy record, Garoppolo's numbers going into Thursday were pedestrian, especially touchdown passes (nine) to interceptions (seven).
"We all know Jimmy can throw it and get his numbers," Shanahan said. "He's gotten it before. We haven't needed it this year, at least until today."
The 49ers have won mostly with a solid ground attack and an outstanding defense this season. They entered the week leading the league in total defense (224.4 yards allowed per game) and pass defense (128.7) and ranked second in scoring defense (11.0 points).
Arizona eclipsed all of those numbers, compiling 394 yards total offense. Murray was 17 for 24 passing for 241 yards and two TDs with no picks.
"They were able to move the ball on our defense more than usual," Shanahan said. "Our guys battled. The defense has been great all year. They definitely didn't have one of their better games today, but it was good enough to win."
Milwaukie High grad Kendrick Bourne had only one reception, but it was a big one — for seven yards and the go-ahead touchdown, giving San Francisco a 14-7 lead it never relinquished. The third-year pro from Eastern Washington has caught only 11 passes this season after snaring 42 for the 49ers last season.
"Felt like a little burden off of me," Bourne said. "It felt good to help the team out. When you hear your name called, you always want to make that play. Jimmy put it on the money. It was big to take the lead and get the momentum back."
It's been an epic turnaround for the 49ers, who haven't had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2013. They were 4-12 last season and 12-36 the past three years, including 2-14 under Chip Kelly in 2016.
San Francisco's schedule for the second half of the season couldn't be much more difficult, starting with its next game, a Nov. 11 Monday night Levi's Stadium encounter with Seattle (6-2). The 49ers have two games left with the Seahawks (also Dec. 29 at CenturyLink Field) as well as single games against Green Bay (7-1) and the Los Angeles Rams (5-3) at home and road contests against New Orleans (7-1) and Baltimore (5-2). Combined record of the remaining SF opponents: 33-13-1.
For now, though, the 49ers are unbeaten.
"But we don't like the way it ended tonight," San Francisco linebacker Dre Greenlaw said. "We feel like we should have done a lot better, especially on defense. It feels good to be 8-0, but at the same time, we know we could have let this one slip."
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