SANTA CLARA — The 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-25 Thursday night. Here are the 49ers’ grades:
GAROPPOLO: A. He has two sides — Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy. Against the Cardinals, he wasn’t merely Good Jimmy. He was Super Jimmy. He played the best game of his career. Threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Bad Jimmy never made an appearance. Super Jimmy played the whole game, and performed particularly well on third down, when he completed nine of 12 pass attempts. And we’re not talking easy passes. Super Jimmy frequently made subtle moves in the pocket under pressure and converted third-and-longs. All four of his touchdown throws came on third down or fourth down. Clutch. We hadn’t seen him carry the 49ers to victory yet this season, and we wondered if he could. The answer is clear: Hell yes, he can.
RUNNING BACKS: B. Matt Breida was excellent — he ran 15 times for 78 yards (5.2 yards per carry) even though he had an injured ankle. He’s so tough and fast, and he runs surprisingly hard between the tackles for a small running back. He is one of the best running backs in the league. Tevin Coleman didn’t play particularly well — he averaged 1.9 yards per carry. But, he had no room to run most of the game.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-minus. The 49ers may not have won without Emmanuel Sanders. He roasted the Cardinals’ No. 1 cornerback — Patrick Peterson. Made him look old, slow and just plain bad. Sanders finished with seven catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. He is the best wide receiver the 49ers have had since Anquan Boldin. The rest of the wide receivers played well, too. Kendrick Bourne caught a seven-yard touchdown pass, and Dante Pettis caught a 21-yard touchdown pass. Rookie Deebo Samuel dropped two passes, but redeemed himself by making clutch catches during the second half.
TIGHT ENDS: A. George Kittle appeared to hyper-extend his left knee on the 49ers’ first offensive play from scrimmage, but he stayed in the game and caught six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He is one of the toughest and best players in the NFL. And his backup is good, too. Ross Dwelley made four catches, including an 11-yard catch on third-and-nine to put away the Cardinals. The 49ers have an elite tight-end tandem.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B. They didn’t create much running room — the 49ers averaged just 3.3 yards per carry as an offense. But, the offensive line gave up just one sack, and repeatedly gave Garoppolo just enough time to make long passes on third down. And the starting offensive tackles still aren’t healthy. This unit will get much better when Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey return.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B. The Cardinals ran for 153 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry — they took advantage of the wide gaps between the defensive linemen in 49ers’ “Wide 9” defense. But, the D-line successfully caged Kyler Murray in the pocket and did not let him scramble for big gains — he ran five times for just 34 yards. And DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford each sacked Murray once. The defensive line did what it needed to do.
LINEBACKERS: D. Fred Warner recorded nine tackles, but dropped a pick-six and frequently found himself out of position. Kwon Alexander injured his pectoral muscle and did not finish the game. He will have an MRI to see if he tore his pectoral muscle. Neither he nor Warner could stop Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake, who led Arizona with 162 yards from scrimmage.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: C. Murray’s quarterback rating was 130.7, and he completed 17 of 24 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target was Drake, his running back. But, he also completed an 88-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Andy Isabella in the fourth quarter. During that play, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley got beat, and cornerback Richard Sherman missed a tackle. The 49ers’ secondary seems ordinary when the pass rush isn’t dominant.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Rookie Mitch Wishnowsky landed three punts inside the Cardinals’ 10-yard line, and Richie James Jr. averaged a solid 8.3 yards per punt return.
COACHES: B. Defensive coordinator fulfilled his No. 1 task — stop Murray from running. He kept Murray in the pocket, made him play quarterback and made the Cardinals drive methodically. And the defense would have given up just 17 points had Sherman not missed a tackle near midfield during Isabella’s 88-yard touchdown run. Saleh isn’t responsible for Sherman’s missed tackle. Saleh coached well. Kyle Shanahan coached even better. With the game on the line, he called a pass for backup tight end Ross Dwelley, an extremely brave and daring call. Dwelley had just three catches coming into the game. Shanahan gets better every week.