The Bottom Line:
Cards started off fast, opening up a 9-0 first quarter lead and holding onto a 19 - 17 led entering the 4Q and trying to hang onto a 3-point lead with a half-minute to go in regulation only to fall victim to a 25-yd TD pass and then a meaningless "keep away" TD on the final play.
SF won the toss and deferred. Cards moved to within FG range (aided by a 45 yd flag on She rnan but denied a TD on an offensive PI call), but couldn't deliver a TD. Gonzalez good from 26. On the next Cardinal possession, Cards were able to to cash in on completions to Fitz and Pharo Cooper to score a TD on a 5-yd completion to Fitz. (XP was no good).
Cards took a 9 - 0 lead (Gonzo missed the XP) into the 2Q and then widened it to 16 - 0 on a lot of short stuff plus a 21-yd scramble by Murray and capped off by a 5 yd TD reception by Cooper. A 57-yd completion to R James helped set up a 4 yd TD pass from Garoppolo to Dwelley to break the ice for the Niners 16- 7. A 23-yd pass to Deebo Samuel set the stage for a 43 yd McLaughlin FG to make it 16 - 10 Cards just before halftime.
SF scored on the opening 2H drive highlighted by a 37-yd pass to T Coleman and a 19-yd completion to Juszczk. Garoppolo hit Dwelley for a 5-yd TD to make it SF 17 - Cards 16. Niners masde it all the way down to the Cards 13 before his pass intended for Sanders was picked off by Hicks who ran it back to around midfield. Cards couldn't punch it in and settled for a 22-yd Gonzalez FG to give the Cards a 19 - 17 lead.
Niners came right back with a 10-play 75-yd TD drive - featuring a 26-yd pass to Samuel and a 19-yarder to Bourne - that crossed over into the 4Q and was topped off by 2-yd completion to Bourne (XP was no good). Cards 19 - SF 23.
A lot of short stuff capped off by a 22-yd Kyler Murray inside TD rush to give the Cards a 26 - 23 lead.
The officials then took over both the tempo and details of the football game. Starting at his own 35, Garoppolo led his offense on a brief march filled with short passes. He made it to 3rd & 3 at the Cardinal 28, needing a FG to tie it up. A 3-yd completion to Dwelley was ruled a 1st down (& a likely FG try). And the Replay Official then upheld the decision, declaring it a 1st down. With 4 downs to play with, Garoppolo hit J Wilson on a slant route for the go-ahead TD to give the Niners a 30 - 26 lead. An incredible amount of TV time was wasted watching officials review the action "under the hood."
The Cards turned the remaining 0:06 on the clock into the traditional game of "keep away" only to have Reed recover a muffed lateral and take it in for a meaningless score. Final:36 - 26 Niners.
Game wasn't a fluke - It was a game the Cards should have filed as a "W"." What lept out at me was: (1) We knew the one thing we had to do near the end of the game was "prevent a TD." And what did we fail to do? Prevent a TD. (2) Check the number of pass completions to players who seldom showed up in the box scores of previous action. Over and over again, we'd neglect these unsung heros and leave the Jusczks, Wrights, Dwelleys and Bournes of the world wide open. (3) It seemed to this writer that, in terms of outsmarting the Niners early-on, Kingsbury ate the Niners lunch only to have the Niner coaches adjust to what we were doing (notably - taking away the outside run. We never responded their adjustments and our offense simply ran out of gas. Conversely, SF killed us in short passing game - their receivers won most of the head to head battles with our coverage personnel and previous problems with miscommunications were enough to tilt a tightly fought contest in favor of the other guys.
"Morning after" commentary by the Cardinal faithful generally centered around firing the General Manager (i.e. "when should we fire him?" Why we should fire him?" "How we should fire him?" Should we bake him a cake?"
My first impression to all this negative chatter was (& is): "My oh my! Are these Cardinal rooters folks I'd be happey to share a foxhole with?"
During the previous off-season, the Cardinal establishment determined that their recent move to overhaul the coaching staff was going nowhere (i.e. the future of the franchise was basically a 2-lane road moving directly inyo a brick wall. Their perception was that the game was changing and the franchise should change along with it. A golden opportunity presented itself in the form of innovative young HC Kliff Kingsbury and piled on top of that was a"new-age" QB (K Murray) who fit Kingsbury's new offense like a glove.
The Bidwills and their staff made their move. Exit Steve Wilks & his people. Enter Kingsbury and his version of the "Air Raid." Gutsy call? You betcha (runs smack into the face of traditional ways teams build a franchise). But the Cards were "all in" (which meant - "out with the old stuff/in with the new" and "live with newbie management, coaching and executional mistakes" (& learn from them).
Would this mean that the team would look like a bunch of blindman's bluff" zombies wandering around figuring out what to do? A little. But we;'d counter that the Cardinals are further along on the rocky road to recovery than we had any reason to expect them to.
The offense looks better than average and its potential seems limitless. Too many mistakes on defense, but most are correctible. We lose way more than half our one-on-one battles for jump balls and will have to decide where the problem lies - Physical mismatches? Inadequate teaching? Coaching deficiencies?
But the bottom line is that we should be able to plug the leaks and play better football - enough so that we should contend for a playoff spot next year (if problems are recognized and addressed).
So what, you say, about Steve Keim? On surface, he leaves much room for improvement (opposing NFL teams have rebuilt their OL, DB's and LB's quicker and better than we have). But I don't know the art of GMing better than most football fans do and, instead, urge ownership to identify and tackle the problems rather than scape-goat Keim or any other Cardinal staffer.
In short, any move we make shouold be from within the standpoint of: "Is this really the best move we can make to help our team.?"