Another NFC West matchup and another win for the 49ers.
San Francisco extended its divisional winning streak to 12 with its 45-29 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix on Sunday. The 45-point outburst was the sixth consecutive game where the 49ers had scored at least 28 points and the fifth in its last six where it scored at least 30.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the 49ers also extended their winning streak to six games, a season-long six games.
With the 49ers moving to 11-3 on the season, here are the winners and losers from the win on Sunday:
Winners of the NFC West: the San Francisco 49ers
It seemed inevitable after the 49ers beat Seattle on Thanksgiving, but with the win in Arizona on Sunday, San Francisco clinched consecutive NFC West titles for the first time since 2012. It also became the first team not only to clinch a playoff spot but its division as well.
The Seahawks took control of the NFC West after the 49ers’ loss to the Bengals, but since then, the 49ers have been 6-0 while Seattle has won only once. The division title marks the third time the 49ers have won the west under Kyle Shanahan, with each of the previous two times resulting in, at minimum, an NFC Championship Game appearance.
While the division title is excellent, the focus will continue to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, something the 49ers also currently hold with the tiebreaker advantage over the Cowboys and Eagles.
Winner: QB Brock Purdy
Many names have been thrown at Purdy over the past few weeks – game manager, YAC merchant, etc. – but MVP might be the one that sticks.
It was another MVP-esque performance from Purdy in Arizona on Sunday, throwing for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the 16-point win. While he did have a couple of wide-open throws go for touchdowns, it was again the tough throws that stood out from Purdy. His best throw of the game came halfway through the fourth, hitting Deebo Samuel in the front corner of the end zone with a beautiful back-shoulder throw in a spot where only his receiver could come down with the ball.
Not only is he making throws that it seemed quarterbacks of 49ers past couldn’t make under Kyle Shanahan, but Purdy is doing so on a weekly basis, leading to games like he had in Arizona. Sunday marked the third game this season Purdy has thrown for four touchdowns, with two occurring in the last three weeks.
Winner: RB Christian McCaffrey
It’s honestly a spoil of riches for the 49ers offense. The past few weeks, it’s been the Deebo show. Before that, it was George Kittle for a couple of games, and on Sunday, it was McCaffrey’s turn.
The 49ers running back finished with three total touchdowns – two in the air and one on the ground – while leading the offense in rushing and receiving yards. It was the second game this season where McCaffrey finished with at least three scores, his first being against Arizona back in Week 4, where he finished with four touchdowns. He matched multiple others for most touchdowns in a season against one opponent with his seven against the Cardinals this year.
McCaffrey started his scoring day with a five-yard reception at the end of the first half to put San Francisco up 21-13, but his highlight play came on his second score. On the 49ers’ first drive of the second half, Purdy avoided pressure up the middle to roll out left before uncorking a deep pass to a wide-open McCaffrey. So wide open, the running back stumbled and fell as he hauled the ball in before getting up and scampering to the end zone to extend the 49ers’ lead to 15.
He would finish his day with a goal-line score on the ground to put the 49ers up three scores, putting the game away for good. McCaffrey’s play of late should move him into the MVP conversation, but since that’s a quarterback award, Offensive Player of the Year should suffice.
Winner: CB Charvarius Ward
Ward entered Sunday with the league lead in pass breakups but alluded this week that those breakups could soon turn into interceptions, and that’s precisely what happened on Sunday.
The 49ers’ cornerback finished Sunday with a pair of interceptions, the first multi-interception game of Ward’s career, and his first pick resulted in another first of his career. Arizona had some momentum early after its first drive resulted in a score and was already at midfield on its second drive on a fourth-and-3. Kyler Murray dropped back and tried to find tight end Trey McBride, but Ward had it played perfectly, jumping the route before reaching 20 MPH on his return for the first touchdown of Ward’s career to give the 49ers its first lead.
Ward would finish the game with a fourth-quarter interception with the 49ers up 20, ending his day strong with Shanahan clearing the bench with the 20-point lead.
Loser: the run defense
Maybe the only complaint with the 49ers on Sunday, but the run defense couldn’t stop anything against the Cardinals.
The interior of the defensive line was missing Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, but even then, it’s not a performance you would like to see. After not allowing more than 160 rushing yards in a game this season, Arizona had its best game on the ground, rushing for 234 yards on 30 attempts.
The Cardinals were led by James Conner, who finished with 86 yards on 14 carries and Arizona’s opening touchdown, while Emari Demercardo added 64 yards on four rushes. Conner and Demercardo also exploded for big plays, with Conner breaking out for a 43-yard run in the third quarter and Demercardo making Fred Warner miss a tackle enough for a 49-yard touchdown run to cut the 49ers’ lead to 13.
The run defense hasn’t given much concern all season, and with the injuries, Sunday might not be a cause for concern either. But the 49ers host the best run offense in the league next week in the Ravens, and a performance like against Arizona might not instill much confidence heading into Christmas.
Loser: Injury scares
While the scoreboard didn’t give 49ers’ fans much worry, several instances were cause for panic.
McCaffrey and Purdy had injury scares on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. McCaffrey was dealing with a knee issue that caused him to get some looks from the training staff on the sideline following the drive. Then, on the play, after McCaffrey seemed to have issues, Purdy was hit by Dennis Gardeck, who sent the 49ers quarterback to the blue tent before he returned with what was later called a stinger.
Later in the game, Randy Gregory knocked an Arizona lineman to the ground, but not before rolling up on the back of Nick Bosa’s leg. Despite the scary play, Bosa missed several plays but could return to the game.
The 49ers have been able to get through 2023 relatively healthy after years of injury issues. While none of the injuries appeared serious, I am sure 49ers fans would like to go through the next two months without even a scare like the three they saw on Sunday.