MEXICO CITY — No Colt McCoy-induced meltdown for the 49ers this year.
Last season, in Week 9, McCoy and the B-team Arizona Cardinals handed them a two-touchdown loss that dropped them to the low point of their season at 3-5. The playoffs seemed like a pipe dream at that point, let alone a ride with Jimmy G to the NFC Championship.
This time around, the 49ers bullied their way to a convincing 38-10 victory Monday night that also represented their biggest scoring output of the season. The ‘W’ also vaulted the Niners (6-4) into a tie for first place in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks. The division is theirs for the taking.
From the pregame warmups, you could tell that the 78,427 fans in Estadio Azteca were rooting hard for a Niners victory.
The in-stadium camera operators would zoom in on individual players while they were getting loose on the field. Even though Cardinals Kyler Murray was unavailable with a hamstring injury, he got the loudest boos. Every time a 49ers star like Nick Bosa or George Kittle or Jimmy Garoppolo — especially Jimmy G — was on the screen, the crowd would go wild. So they'd put Kyler on the screen again for more boos and go back-and-forth. Welcome to Levi's Del Sur.
“I haven’t played in an atmosphere anything like it," Garoppolo said. "It was electric. The fans were nuts.”
The vibes are high around the Niners these days, as they have put together their first three-game win streak since last season – which started the week after their bottoming loss to the Cardinals.
“We’re definitely ready to go on a run,” Kittle said after his two-touchdown evening.
Another way to look at it: the 49ers are undefeated in three games since Christian McCaffrey has been fully integrated into the offense. They’re averaging 30.3 points per game during the mini-streak.
On Monday night, the 49ers sliced and diced the Cardinals through the air and on the ground.
For the first (and only) time since the magical 2019 season, Garoppolo threw for four touchdowns – two to the Mexican football fan favorite Kittle and two to Brandon Aiyuk, who has become the team’s most consistent option in the passing game.
Garoppolo finished 20-of-29 for 228 yards and was effective despite not taking any chances deep downfield. Maybe the Cardinals had flashbacks to 2019, when he burned them both times with four-touchdown efforts.
“I think Jimmy is doing a great job,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I think Jimmy always has. When he's been healthy out there, we've had our guys around him and I think he plays at a very high level. He did that today and we're very fortunate to have him."
The Niners averaged 5.7 yards per carry on the ground and had the Cardinals defense looking worn out by the second half. Elijah Mitchell didn’t get his first carry until shortly before halftime, but finished with a team-high nine carries and 59 yards. McCaffrey totaled 14 touches for 104 yards, hauling in seven catches for 67 yards and adding seven carries for 37 yards. Deebo Samuel caught the ball seven times for 57 yards and added a trademark 39-yard touchdown run where he had a lot of space to operate.
A week after getting targeted just twice, Kittle led all 49ers with 84 receiving yards on four catches. He high-stepped his way into the end zone on his first score after Jimmy G stepped up in a collapsing pocket. The Cardinals defense looked weary to make contact with him as he YAC’d his way to the pylon on his second score.
"When you have playmakers like we have, it allows you to do everything," Garoppolo said. "If the defense tries to take away the run, we're gonna throw it. If they try to take away the middle of the field, we throw outside. We got a lot of playmakers on the offense. it makes my job easy."
Another common thread that’s emerged the last three weeks? The Niners haven’t allowed a second-half score of any variety. McCaffrey can’t take credit for that, but perhaps it's proof that it’s all coming together for the Niners now that they’re healthy. If you score 30 points a game and can hold teams scoreless in the second half you're gonna win a lot of football games.
Bosa said defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans deserves all the praise for the recent second-half shutout streak.
"He's amazing," Bosa said. "He knows when to make the right calls. I don't think he'll be here much longer, unfortunately, if he wants a head job somewhere. But, yeah, three second-half shutouts in a row is winning football, and if we can keep that up, then with our offense we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Bosa notched a sack to bring his season total to 10.5. He admitted that the altitude was brutal and he felt it after three plays. By the fourth quarter, the Niners led by 28 and removed their starters with 5:48 left. The Cardinals marched down the field to put the shutout streak in jeopardy but rookie corner Samuel Womack picked off Trace McSorley in the end zone to set off the fiesta for real.
"I'm super happy for him," Bosa said of Womack. "I wanted to get out there for that last drive, but Coach Kyle Shanahan pulled me. But that's smart at that point in the game. We're a winning team, so we got to be smart when we have leads like that."
Kittle showed up to his postgame press conference Monday night in a fresh, golden, sparking Luchador mask gifted to him by legendary Mexican wrestler Penta El Zero Miedo.
"Howdy! Hola!" he said in typical Kittle fashion.
Linebacker Fred Warner showed up with a customized Mexican National Team soccer jersey gifted to him by 49ers practice squad player and Mexican native Alfredo Gutierrez. So, yeah, the Niners had a good time on Monday night.
"I hope we have the opportunity to come back here," Kittle said, "because this place was amazing."