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What we learned from 49ers' victory over Cardinals

*Eight games up, eight games won. The San Francisco 49ers (8-0) held off a late charge from the Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) to secure a 28-25 win over their NFC West rivals and keep their perfect season alive on "Thursday Night Football." Here's what we learned from the first game of Week 9: *

  1. On the same roster for just under eight days, Jimmy Garoppolo and Emmanuel Sanders have already developed impeccable chemistry, as the Panthers learned Sunday and as the Cardinals were taught early and often on Thursday evening. Sanders hauled in seven catches against Arizona for 112 yards, the most receptions and yardage any 49ers receiver had earned in a game all season. Such was the TE- and RB-focused nature of San Francisco's offense pre-Sanders. Usually George Kittle is Garoppolo's go-to guy at all levels of the offense, but Sanders is quickly becoming Jimmy G's top target -- and Garoppolo has benefited. The Niners QB threw four touchdowns for the first time in his career Thursday night, one of them going in Sanders' direction.

The veteran WR was there when Jimmy G needed him. Nowhere was this more evident than on San Francisco's final drive, when, up three and on third-and-11, Garoppolo found Sanders between three defenders for a first down after the WR shed coverage from Patrick Peterson. (Sidebar: Peterson is going to want to bury this game tape Tony Sparano-style. The three-time All-Pro cornerback was the victim on many of Sanders' receptions and was out of place on Garoppolo's game-winning TD pass to Dante Pettis.) That first-down pickup led to another on third down, which led to another on third down, which led to San Francisco closing out its eighth victory with an 11-play, four-minute, 53-second drive. In beating the Cards, Garoppolo became the first Niners QB with at least 300 yards and four TDs since Jeff Garcia in 2000. Those Niners won just six games and missed the postseason. The 2019 49ers, with Garoppolo and Sanders in tow, are bound for far greater things.

  1. The Kyler and Kliff experience looked equally ready for prime time and nap time on Thursday night. The Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate dazzled when he was on the move against San Francisco, nimbly evading tacklers with ease, and made a handful of brilliant throws; his touchdown toss to Andy Isabella, a 34.1-yard dart to the right sideline, just past the overstretched arms of Emmanuel Moseley, that the speedy rookie took to the house to pull within one score, was one of the year's best. But Murray took some terrible sacks in the first half and was often too eager to give himself up on scrambles. Similarly, Kingsbury schemed Kenyan Drake open in the run and pass game well on Thursday, but made two errors at the end of the first and second halves that sank Arizona's chance at a comeback. On an SF fourth-and-goal attempt from the ARI 1-yard line with four seconds left in the first half, Kingsbury called a timeout just before his front seven stuffed a Niners run attempt. Garoppolo threw a short TD pass to Sanders on the ensuing snap. Kingsbury also made an ill-advised challenge on San Francisco's final drive of the game, one that cost him a key timeout down the stretch. Rookie mistakes from a rookie coach and his rookie QB.
  1. Drake's introduction in Arizona was quickly followed by his introduction to the end zone. Traded to the Cardinals from Miami earlier this week, Drake started Thursday in place of the injured David Johnson and Chase Edmonds. After breaking a 34-yard run over Arizona's very first play from scrimmage, Drake soon punched in a four-yard TD run. In one drive with the Cardinals, Drake scored more touchdowns than he had in six games with the Dolphins this season. Arizona utilized Drake heavily in the screen game in the second half and the running back finished with 162 yards from scrimmage, more than any Cardinals RB had earned all season. How Drake will be utilized if and when Johnson returns to the lineup will be interesting; the two former third-round backs have similar skill sets, if not talent. Perhaps Arizona can have the type of one-two punch on the ground that the Niners have developed with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.
  1. Fresh off Defensive Player and Rookie of the Month honors, Nick Bosa was relatively quiet going up against Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries, earning pressures and forcing penalties but not tallying the sacks he's used to. No matter, his teammates picked up the slack. Dee Ford wrecked Justin Pugh at right tackle, where he was filling in for the inactive Justin Murray, logging one sack of Murray; DeForest Buckner and Dre Greenlaw each notched a sack as well, the latter's QB takedown occurring 19 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Murray's ability to escape pressure on a dime kept San Francisco from mauling the rookie as it had Baker Mayfield and Kyle Allen in weeks past, but the Niners frustrated Murray all evening, forcing him into quick decisions and off-balance throws that messed with Arizona's timing attack. The Niners won't like that their four-game streak of allowing 100 or fewer passing yards was broken, partly courtesy of the Isabella TD, but they'll take the win.
  1. Props should be given to Budda Baker, who in a losing effort logged three passes defensed and led all Cardinals in tackles (13). Baker's "highlight" of the evening might feature him being stiff-armed by Kittle on the tight end's first-quarter score, but before and after that play, Budda was rockin' everywhere.
  1. San Francisco is enjoying its best start to a season since 1990 when Joe Montana led the 49ers to a conference title berth. The Niners also went 8-0 all the way back in 1948 when Buck Shaw's club was tearing up Kezar Stadium en route to a second-place finish in the AAFC West Division. If these 49ers are to avoid a second-place finish in the NFC West this year, they will need to take care of the only rival they've yet to play: the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco will get its chance next Monday night when it hosts the Seahawks in prime time. With 11 days to rest, the 49ers should have quite the advantage.
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