By Joe Hawkes
SANTA CLARA, Calif — The San Francisco 49ers’ “Revenge Tour” for 2020 didn’t get off to the best start, as the Arizona Cardinals slipped by San Francisco, 24-20, in Week 1 of the NFL season on Sunday afternoon.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, whom the Cardinals acquired in the offseason via a trade with the Houston Texans, dominated a usually formidable 49ers defense for much of the game. Hopkins finished with a career-high 14 catches for 151 yards in his debut, set up running back Kenyan Drake’s 1-yard go-ahead TD with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Kyler Murray, last season’s Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year, picked up where he left off, threw for 230 yards and a touchdown and ran for 90 yards and another score to help the Cardinals (1-0) overcome a pair of fourth quarter deficits to the reigning NFC champion 49ers (0-1) in an empty Levi’s Stadium in smoky temperatures.
There were growing concerns all week that the game could be postponed because of poor air quality from fires from across Northern California. The Air Quality Index remained below the 200 threshold and the game kicked off on time.
Murray completed 26-of-40 passes and was sacked twice on the day. Murray actually rushed for 100 yards before two kneeldowns at the end for minus-10 yards.
49ers running back Jerick McKinnon caught a 5-yard TD pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in his first game since Dec. 31, 2017, to give San Francisco a 20-17 lead with 8:38 left in the fourth quarter before Murray engineered Arizona’s comeback.
Murray’s 33-yard connection to Hopkins to the 49ers’ 1-yard line would setup Drake’s score on the very next play, putting the Cardinals up for good.
San Francisco’s defense registered just one sack by defensive end Kerry Hyder and one interception by safety Jaquiski Tartt. It was San Francisco’s first recorded interception by a safety since Oct. 28, 2018, coincidentally, by Tartt against the Cardinals when he picked off from first-round pick Josh Rosen.
Tartt recorded the interception in the second quarter off a tip pass from second-year starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
The defense looked extremely gassed in the fourth quarter after Arizona went on a 14-play, 94-yard drive that covered 6:48 minutes that resulted in a 22-yard TD run by Murray that gave the Cardinals their first lead of the game at 17-13 with 10:26 remaining.
Garoppolo, who finished 19-of-33 passing for 259 yards and two TD’s, moved San Francisco to the Cardinals’ 16-yard line before throwing an incomplete pass to wide receiver Trent Taylor on fourth-and-5 that sealed the 49ers’ fate.
San Francisco jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead, highlighted by a 76-yard TD catch from running back Raheem Mostert from Garoppolo. Mostert’s score reached a maximum speed of 22.73 MPH, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
It was the fastest TD since Tyreek Hill in 2016.
As a whole, San Francisco struggled on offense against a very improved Cardinals defense for much of the game. The 49ers couldn’t convert on third down, going 2-for-11 on the day and got nothing from its wide receiver group.
Taylor (5), Kendrick Bourne (5) and Dante Pettis garnered just 11 targets while mustering just 41 yards among them.
By that same token, fullback Kyle Juszczyk had one catch but that went for 41 yards in the fourth quarter.
Tight end George Kittle, the 49ers unquestioned best offensive player, caught four passes for 44 yards in the first half before leaving late in the second quarter for the locker room with a scary looking leg injury. Kittle jumped high for a pass from Garoppolo on the left side of the field. The All-Pro tight end was tackled around his waist by Cardinals safety Budda Baker just as he landed to the turf.
It appeared that Kittle’s left knee just hyperextend. Kittle did return in the second-half, but was a virtual non-factor in the offense.
San Francisco looks to get into the win column next week as they travel to New York for their first of two games in the Big Apple, when they take on the Jets in Week 2.
The Jets (0-1) fell to their AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills (1-0), 27-17 earlier in the day.
Nothing went well for the Jets, who opened the game with three three-and-outs, combined for 23 yards of offense and one first down on their five possessions, and trailed 21-0 before anyone blinked.
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold completed 21-of-35 passes for 215 yards, one touchdown, one interception and was sacked three times.
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder had himself a game, hauling seven catches for 115 yards which included a 69-yard TD catch from Darnold that briefly cut the Bills’ lead to 21-10 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.