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Rapid Reactions: Arizona Cardinals upset 49ers in season opener

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) celebrates during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Slow out the gate, but quick to the finish.

The Arizona Cardinals took about a quarter to click, but when they did, it was something.

The Cardinals took down the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, 24-20, in an impressive, come-from-behind win on Sunday.

DeAndre Hopkins looked as advertised in his first game as a Cardinal, while Kyler Murray turned on the jets throughout the contest.

Here are the rapid reactions from the Arizona Sports staff:

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf

Last year, the offense couldn’t come back from late deficits. If Arizona had the lead, the defense couldn’t hold it.

It’s amazing to think Kyler Murray is only going to get better. His runs are devastating. Murray still needs to improve at throwing the ball away, not only to avoid a sack but to also manage the clock. His sack/run at the end of the first half cost a time-out, yet that’s what is so exciting. His mistakes are few and easily correctable.

Also, Byron Murphy swallowed some tough pills in 2019. Fate set him up on the last two plays and he came through to seal the win.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo

A sleepy and stagnant start for the Cards got a jolt thanks to DeAndre Hopkins’ hands, Kyler Murray’s feet and was ultimately saved by Byron Murphy’s moxie. Of course there was so much more to this opening weekend win than just that, but it’s hard not to think about Hopkins’ career high 14 receptions and Murray’s 91 yards rushing as the two significant factors that turned this opener in the Cards’ favor. Hopkins was targeted often and delivered, in particular the 34-yard catch and run that set up the final touchdown. Sixteen targets for Nuk, the next closest receiver in the box score had five. It won’t be like that every game but clearly Kyler wanted to feature the new gem that Steve Keim stole for him.

As for Murray, his game got off to a clunky start. But his ability to escape pressure and to slide at just the right time, avoid injury and draw flags at the same time, gave his game a kickstart. It’s easy to assume rust after no preseason and a strange training camp. Let’s hope today’s game was the WD-40 needed to loosen everything up.

There was plenty to like: Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell’s goal line stand, the blocked punt, the defensive work in the middle of the game when the Niners couldn’t convert a third down, and of course Larry Fitzgerald for his heads up play to set up the field goal that ended the first half.

And there was plenty to not like: Isaiah Simmons’ rough indoctrination into the NFL, Jordan Hicks pass interference and Zane Gonzalez’s two missed field goals.

But in the end there were the three passes batted away, two by Murphy and a very satisfying Cards win. The kind that confirms the idea this year could — COULD — be something better than expected.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

What a win. Really not sure what the 49ers were thinking down four points with five minutes left and in no rush to move the ball downfield. They ran the ball and went with a short passing attack that chewed up almost all of the clock. They basically said, “We either win or lose with this possession,” when they had the option to play for two chances and possibly two field goals to win the game.

Maybe 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan knew his defense couldn’t stop the Cardinals or his defense was spent! Either way, San Fran gave themselves only one chance to win with plenty of time left and failed. Credit to Vance Joseph’s defense for coming up with a huge stop to seal the win. Byron Murphy was always going to be a stud and he made the play on Taylor to knock the ball away on 4th-and-5 that for all intents and purposes ended the game.

Now, let’s get to DeAndre Hopkins. Can we ask again for the 150th time why the Texans wanted to trade this guy? I mean he was unstoppable. The 49ers had NO answer for him – NONE. Fourteen catches for 151 yards! Are we sure Keim gave him enough money earlier this week? And Murray, damn was he good. Not good — great! It’s one game but the Cardinals offense was clicking. Murray had 100 yards rushing before the kneel-downs plus the 230 passing. Arizona had 29 first downs to the 49ers 18. They had 404 yards against vs. a really good defense. They ran 78 plays! That’s 17 more than San Fran. This was a huge win for the Cardinals, not only against a division foe, but versus the defending NFC champs.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta

I wasn’t alone.

Many watching the Cardinals’ season opener in Santa Clara on Sunday were a little frustrated and underwhelmed by the much-hyped offense of Kliff Kingsbury for a good portion of the game.

Then, “the drive” happened.

After San Francisco took the lead with 8:38 to go in the fourth quarter, Kyler Murray’s comfort level increased. The second-year quarterback led the Cardinals on a seemingly effortless 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Kenyan Drake to give Arizona a 24-20 lead.

Then, the defense, which got off to a horrible start, answered. Patrick Peterson and Byron Murphy had pass breakups (including Murphy’s on fourth down) to give the Cardinals their first Week 1 win since 2015. In fact, this is the first time the Cardinals have been above .500 since they walked off the field in Charlotte in an NFC Championship Game loss to Carolina in January 2016.

It wasn’t all pretty. The Cardinals really struggled to defend running backs coming out of the backfield. San Francisco backs combined for nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

But the defense did a great job limiting George Kittle, the 49ers’ all-world tight end, and also put the clamps on San Francisco on third down (the 49ers finished 2-for-11).

And yeah, it didn’t take long for DeAndre Hopkins to make his presence felt. Hopkins’ 34-yard catch set up Drake’s go-ahead touchdown and finished with a career-high 14 catches for 151 yards. That reception total matches the single-game high for any Cardinals’ receiver since 1988 (Anquan Boldin had 14 in a game against Baltimore in 2007).

A somewhat dull game turned into a great one in the fourth quarter — and it’s easily the most exciting of the young Kingsbury-Murray era so far.

Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter

The most significant part of this result to me is that the Cardinals were “OK” for the most part.

The run game was whatever, and the offense mostly relied on DeAndre Hopkins’ short routes and Kyler Murray’s legs. The defense made costly errors, allowed 4.9 yards per carry and below average QB play combined with no threat at wide receiver still presented issues in the pass game. And yet, the Cardinals won.

That’s how much Murray’s big-play ability can change things. If he’s precise with the ball or makes a few game-changing plays, Arizona will be in every game if the defense doesn’t get steamrolled. When Murray checks both of those boxes, that’s when we’re talking about the darkhorse MVP candidate, and the Cardinals didn’t even need that to beat the division favorite. You could see either cause for concerns or potential after this game. I’m choosing to be optimistic with the latter.

Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter

DeAndre Hopkins showed he’s the alpha, Kyler Murray had young quarterback mistakes, the defense broke down with a rookie linebacker on the field too much, but the Cardinals beat a team in Week 1 that went to the Super Bowl. That should validate the offseason for the Cardinals front office and set in stone that expectations should be high as the 2020 season continues.

Murray is going to make enough plays to win games as he continues to improve as a passer, and Isaiah Simmons will need to be brought along more slowly (Haason Reddick ended up being the X-factor linebacker who is to be trusted). But it should feel good for the Cardinals that they didn’t play their best game and did enough down the stretch on both sides of the ball to win despite those hiccups.

Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has to be breathing a huge sigh of relief. The tight end conundrum from a year prior didn’t rear it’s ugly head! Holding the tight end to just 44 yards is a feat in itself, especially when looking at the numbers from last season.

The Cardinals showed a lot in their season-opening victory. The offense seemed to sputter at first, but eventually found its groove and put the ball in the hands of their stars.

But above all else, what really stuck out to me was the way the team continued to play even under adversity. In a close game, you had your kicker miss two field goals after grinding through unfavorable field position to get him in the position. That would be a huge blow for other teams’ psyche. Yet, Arizona stayed locked in and finished the job. Last year, those type of mistakes would have proved disastrous.

It’s only a game, but it’s one hell of a win.

Jordan Byrd, producer of Burns & Gambo and host of Arizona Sports Saturday

The biggest question of the Cardinals 2020 season won them the game in Santa Clara. The Arizona defense made plays when they had to and looked to make progress throughout the course of the game. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of things to clean up like penalties and the improvement of Isaiah Simmons.

But when Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins put the Cardinals in position to win, it was Vance Joseph’s unit that nailed the door shut. The Cards offense showed flashes of something even better to come, but it was the defense that caught my attention. And its the defense that could ultimately determine the success of Arizona’s season.


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