Surprisingly, Thursday night’s NFL game was intriguing on several levels. On paper, everything was trending toward a San Francisco blowout. The 49ers have been absolutely rolling as of late.
Their move to acquire Emmanuel Sanders from the Broncos has been paying off, their young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has really been coming into his own, and Tevin Coleman was coming off a game in which he rushed for over 100 yards and three touchdowns.
In contrast, Arizona was coming off of a demoralizing loss to the Saints in which its struggles to move the ball were matched only by an inability to contain New Orleans’ talented offense.
The wheels were set in motion, and but for an early rushing touchdown by the Cardinals, it looked like there would be no surprises.
By the second quarter, the 49ers had taken a commanding 21-7 lead. An early injury scare had seemed to only energize superstar tight end George Kittle, and San Francisco was marching down the field with little resistance.
In the second half, however, the Cardinals quickly got it together. Arizona scored three times and was able to make some pivotal stops to give themselves the opportunity to win the game.
The game came down to only one possession, with the 49ers picking up a critical third down conversion that allowed them to run out the clock.
San Francisco won by only three points; a lead that would not have existed had Arizona not burned a timeout prior to a stop that would have prevented a San Francisco touchdown. The timeout gave the 49ers the opportunity to score instead of turning the ball over on downs.
So what did this matchup teach us about where these two teams stack up in comparison to the rest of the NFL? Firstly, despite a deceiving record, the Cardinals are a promising team with loads of potential.
Everyone knew that Heisman winner Kyler Murray was talented, but he is really showing that he has the ability to be brilliant on the NFL level.
Murray’s brilliance was on full display during a fourth quarter play on second down where Murray tucked a perfect pass right out of reach of a defender and into the hands of rookie wide receiver Andy Isabella, who then proceeded to burn the secondary for an 88-yard touchdown.
With talent the likes of Murray, Isabella, and Larry Fitzgerald, and star running back David Johnson likely returning soon, it is clear how good Arizona can be. The only question is can they prove that they can work as cohesive unit soon enough.
Arizona can take note from their opposition, as San Francisco has looked like a well-oiled machine all year. After this week, the 49ers remain one of only two teams that are currently undefeated.
Unlike New England, however, they didn’t seem to be quite as battle tested as an undefeated team should be. That is until Thursday night.
By holding on to win in an away game against a talented Arizona team that had stolen the momentum of the game, the 49ers have passed a critical test. They have proven that they have the resiliency to win close games and make plays down the stretch even when the game script seems to be against them.
It is because of this that San Francisco should now be seriously considered among the NFL’s cream of the crop, and definitely stand a chance of knocking off the monsters of the AFC to win their first Super Bowl since 1995.