Rapid reactions: Shorthanded Arizona Cardinals roll over struggling 49ers

Nov 7, 2021, 6:34 PM | Updated: 7:35 pm

Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin, right, celebrates with quarterback Colt McCoy after sc...

Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin, right, celebrates with quarterback Colt McCoy after scoring against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

No Kyler Murray, no DeAndre Hopkins, no J.J. Watt, no A.J. Green, no problem.

Despite being down a number of key contributors, the Arizona Cardinals didn’t blink, dismantling the San Francisco 49ers 31-17 on the road.

Cardinals running back James Conner ran wild, while quarterback Colt McCoy managed the game with relative ease throughout.

The Cardinals remain atop the NFC West standings at 8-1, while the 49ers’ playoff hopes take another hit, now sitting at 3-5.

Here’s what Arizona Sports’ hosts, reporters and editors had to say after the lopsided victory:

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta:

I marveled at what the Green Bay Packers accomplished in Glendale — overcoming major losses at key positions (and getting a healthy dose of good fortune at the end) to beat the Cardinals 24-21 in Week 8.

What the Cardinals did Sunday in Santa Clara on Sunday under similar, possibly more dire conditions, was even more impressive. And they didn’t need late-game luck.

Arizona didn’t have MVP candidate Kyler Murray. Its top two receivers — DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green — were both out. Their best defensive lineman, J.J. Watt, could be out for the season after finally landing on injured reserve Saturday. Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and other coaches missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols. And the opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, came in with a renewed energy after a rousing win last week on the road in Chicago.

None of it mattered.

With Colt McCoy making his first start at quarterback, the Cardinals absolutely dismantled the 49ers 31-17 at Levi’s Stadium to move their record to 8-1.

McCoy wasn’t just a placeholder — he played nearly flawless football, completing 22-of-26 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. He was effective in the run game, getting 23 yards on seven tries. McCoy even gave Kliff Kingsbury the ability to call quarterback sneaks (which he doesn’t do with the diminutive Murray at quarterback), and McCoy delivered with two first downs, with one coming on a gritty second effort on a fourth down in the third quarter. That extended a drive that ended in an Eno Benjamin touchdown run that put the Cardinals up 24 points.

James Conner doesn’t get the same amount of pub as other offseason acquisitions pulled off by general manager Steve Keim, but that’s a mistake. Conner has been a beast, and was even more beastly Sunday, carrying for 96 yards and two touchdowns and catching passes for 77 more yards and another score. His workload was increased after Chase Edmonds left the game early with an ankle injury and came with a patchwork offensive line that had to work around an injury to Justin Pugh. Conner’s 11 total touchdowns lead all NFL rushers and pass catchers.

The Cardinals are now 5-0 on the road in 2021, and have won all five of them by 12 or more points, becoming the first team in the NFL to do that in 16 years.

I wondered if the Packers had laid out the blueprint to beat the Cardinals with their run-first game plan while mixing in short, high-percentage throws. If the 49ers wanted to follow that plan, the Arizona defense made it difficult by forcing turnovers on two of their first four possessions. Instead, it was Kingsbury’s team that got to play downhill.

Another impressive win for a team that answered 10 levels of adversity on Sunday.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: That really could not have gone any better. No Kyler. No D-Hop. No A.J. No J.J. And no Chase after the first offensive drive of the game for Arizona. And thanks to Colt McCoy, James Conner and Vance’s defense — no problem.

The Cardinals went to San Fransisco with every reason in the world to lose the football game and they manhandled the 49ers and came away with a gut-check victory that moves them to 8-1 on the season and back into the top seed in the NFC with Green Bay’s loss to Kansas City. Some will call it overcoming adversity. I’d like to just say they kicked the 49ers’ (butt). James Conner, who was not Cardinals GM Steve Keim’s first choice in free agency for a RB — that was Mike Davis, pulled off his best Roy Kent impersonation. He was here, he was there, he was every-freaking where — James Conner. Congrats to you if you have him on your fantasy team — Conner was a one-man wrecking crew with three touchdowns and 173 total yards (96 rushing on 21 carries for a nice 4.6-yard average and 5 catches for 77 yards).

Eno Benjamin scored his first NFL touchdown and issued a health check for Dre Kirkpatrick in the process after he ran him over — Did anyone get the license plate on that one? Markus Golden — the guy Keim got for a sixth-round pick — had three of the Cardinals’ five sacks. And the forced turnovers that set the tone for this game early — Byron Murphy welcoming George Kittle back to the field with a forced fumble on a nice punch out that Jordan Hicks recovered; Isaiah Simmons telling Brandon Aiyuk to stay down, because when he popped up on a reception in which he wasn’t touched, Simmons was there to knock it out of his hands for another Hicks recovery. And the INT by Budda to make sure San Fran didn’t tack on a late TD to make the score look closer. There were also eight quarterback hits on Jimmy Garoppolo. The Cardinals re-established themselves as the team to beat in the NFC. And may have in the process ended the 49ers’ chances for a postseason berth.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Use whatever superlative you prefer. Tremendous. Outstanding. Terrific. I’m going with satisfying. Immensely satisfying. A perfectly-prepared-meal-really-good-bottle-of-wine-best-desert-you’ve-ever-had kind of satisfying. No Kyler, no Hop, no A.J. or J.J., no Chase Edmonds. How could such a thing not matter? And yet it didn’t. Colt McCoy, James Conner, Markus Golden and others drove a stake into the heart of the 49ers with over 400 yards and 31 points. Oh, and it happened on the same Sunday that the Packers and Cowboys lost in the NFC. Picture perfect.

A win that is not only satisfying for Kliff Kingsbury but likely validating as well. Kliff’s stock soared today; he game-planned the heck out of that contest, perfectly punishing a 49ers defense that took it to the Cardinals last time they met. Jawing with Josh Norman was the cherry on top. Watch close and you’ll see a slew of Kliff-as-coach-of-the-year talk in the next news cycle or two. And why not? He outcoached his much more heralded division rival on the road and the talk out of San Francisco is that this is the most embarrassing loss in the Kyle Shanahan era. Don’t look now but a coach that was 3-9 in the division in his first two years is now 3-0 in Year 3.

I’ll tell you who else had a good day today: Steve Keim. His big-ticket additions in Watt and Green got the spotlight this offseason but look at today’s stars: McCoy and Conner. In the moment, I thought they were good pick-ups but not game-changers. They changed the game today. Both were shockingly good as the game wore on. Add in Chandler Jones and Golden playing the roles of monsters, the defense swiping the ball three times, Eno Benjamin traumatizing Dre Kirkpatrick and a team that has scored at least 31 points in every game away from home and what you’re left with is perhaps the best win of the year. Certainly, second only to the Rams win.

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: The Red Sea probably would’ve forgiven the Cardinals if they had lost this game. After all, they were on the road without their quarterback and top two receivers, facing a desperate San Francisco team that the national media absolutely loved before the season began for some reason. Arizona needed the win, but the 49ers needed it more.

So yeah, a loss wouldn’t have been great, but it would’ve been understandable. That’s not the way this team’s wired though.

Instead of doing what a lot of people probably expected, they stormed into Levi’s Stadium, took over the line of scrimmage, berated Jimmy Garoppolo and ran their road record to 5-0 on the year. James Conner looks like the best signing anyone’s ever made right now. Markus Golden might be unstoppable. Even Kliff Kingsbury got into it with Josh Norman.

Seriously, that last sentence is true. And the best part is DeAndre Hopkins was ready to step in if things got ugly, with a look on his face that said he only needed one healthy hamstring to defend his coach.

There’s a reason everyone was excited to see this team add Colt McCoy in the offseason. It’s not that he’s Tom Brady, it’s that he has NFL experience and is good enough to give his team a chance to win if Kyler Murray has to miss a game or two. That’s exactly what he did today, and the benefits going forward are huge.

Now Kyler is only going to play two games in the span of 37 days from Oct. 29 to Dec. 4, meaning the Cardinals’ most important player should be really well-rested going into the stretch run. And because they won today, they can even entertain the idea of giving him and/or Hopkins one more week off if they want.

Today’s game wasn’t the sort of game you win by accident. The 49ers were overrated before the season began, but they’re still a decent team. And the Cards basically ran them right off the field. You couldn’t ask for a better way to bounce back from your only loss of the season.

Kevin Zimmerman, lead editor: Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury deserve credit for realizing their error a year ago by failing to utilize their backup quarterbacks correctly. Speaking of the sneaky vet pickup we haven’t touched on as much as others, James Conner took advantage with Chase Edmonds injured early on.

Give Arizona quarterback Colt McCoy a hand for not only operating the offense flawlessly but having the timing and the speed of a real game look not too much for him. He was stepping up in the pocket, dipping out of it for short runs and selling running back dump-offs by eating up all the time possible, putting himself at risk of getting hit.

But if we’re going to shout out the most important entity for a team missing its top quarterback, top two outside receivers, starting left guard and starting running back — and having lost J.J. Watt for the year — it’s the coaching staff. Not only for calling a great game, but developing their guys. Third-string center Sean Harlow found himself at left guard on this day after Justin Pugh got hurt and helped as the offensive line paved the way for Conner all day. Receiver Antoine Wesley made a few key catches, including one on a gutsy trick play on a pass from Christian Kirk. Running back Eno Benjamin, with the Cardinals leading, was given a test run in Edmonds’ early-down role and thrived.

Arizona rarely blitzed, trusting a four-man front to get the job done against Jimmy Garoppolo, who threw high a few too many times. That paid off, too.

It was another chunk of evidence the Cardinals are for real.

Tyler Drake, editor and Cardinals reporter: There hasn’t been another NFL team that has faced as much adversity as the Cardinals have this season. Whether it be a surprise retirement, a handful of COVID-19 cases or numerous injuries, Arizona, for the most part, has walked out of each matchup with another win on the docket.

For me, this is the statement win of the year so far. Arizona didn’t miss a beat without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins or A.J. Green on the offensive side of the football, with Colt McCoy and James Conner taking on the brunt of the workload following an early injury to Chase Edmonds. Enough cannot be said about Conner, who has given Arizona’s running game a bullying presence that is hard to counter. McCoy has been exactly what the Cardinals needed in terms of having a capable backup.

On the defensive side, the Cardinals caused Jimmy Garoppolo fits with five sacks, an interception and three passes defensed. Markus Golden was the ring leader of the defense on Sunday, recording three sacks in the victory, while Chandler Jones finally got his franchise record-sealing 67th sack.

Above all else, though, head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the coaching staff deserve the most credit. Not only did they get creative in play calling, Kingsbury and Co. put his team in the best position to win throughout the afternoon, and added a little juice on the sideline. He played to his players’ strengths and didn’t miss a beat. If that doesn’t scream Coach of the year candidate, I don’t know what will.

I firmly believe this is the loss that will send San Francisco into even more of a tailspin as it plays itself out of the postseason conversation and into full rebuild mode. Call it the worst loss in Kyle Shanahan’s tenure — outside of that Super Bowl — because that’s what it was. The 49ers entered the matchup with a ton of confidence and left with their tails between their legs.

Picking up win No. 8 in nine weeks, potentially slamming the door on the 49ers’ playoff dreams and giving two key starters needed rest sums up a stellar day for the Cardinals.

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