Score by quarters
Cardinals 0 10 0 7 -- 17
49ERS 7 3 3 7 -- 20
Records: 49ers 1-0, Cardinals 0-1
Statistic that stands out: The 49ers had just 108 yards of total offense in the game's first 57 minutes before embarking on an 86-yard drive for the winning touchdown in the final three minutes
Play to remember: Facing third-and-13 from the Arizona 23-yard line with 32 seconds remaining to play, quarterback Alex Smith found receiver Arnaz Battle over the middle with a 22-yard reception. As Battle lunged toward the goal line, safety Terrence Holt came from behind and punched the ball out of his hands. As it bounced into the end zone, cornerback Eric Green dived on the ball but could not handle it, giving receiver Darrell Jackson a chance to pounce on it instead. By NFL rule, a fumble cannot be advanced in the final two minutes of a game, so the 49ers got the ball back with 26 seconds remaining at the Arizona 1, where Battle ran in for the winning touchdown on the next play on an end around.
Play to forget: With the 49ers clinging to a 13-10 lead midway through the final quarter, the defense lost contain on Matt Leinart on a third-and-3 play from the San Francisco 30, allowing Arizona's quarterback to scoot 20 yards down the left sideline for the first down. Safety Mark Roman then was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the play, giving Arizona a first-and-goal at the San Francisco 5, and the Cardinals scored the go-ahead touchdown from there on the next play with 6:40 remaining.
First quarter: 49ers (11:21) Frank Gore 6-yard run (Joe Nedney kick)
Second quarter: Cardinals (12:51) Neil Rackers 35-yard field goal; Cardinals (9:10) Edgerrin James 7-yard run (Rackers kick); 49ers (3:35) Nedney 33-yard field goal
Third quarter: 49ers (11:15) Nedney 30-yard field goal
Fourth quarter:Cardinals (6:40) Anquan Boldin 5-yard pass from Matt Leinart (Rackers kick); 49ers (0:22) Arnaz Battle 1-yard run (Nedney kick)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Shutdown secondary: The huge investment in free agents Nate Clements and Michael Lewis began paying dividends immediately as each played roles in the absolute shutdown of an Arizona passing game that had dominated the 49ers the past two seasons. The Cardinals had averaged 327 yards passing during their recent streak of four consecutive wins over the Niners, but that figure was chiseled down to just 100 net yards on Monday. Quarterback Matt Leinart completed only 14 of 28 passes and looked rattled throughout the night when he couldn't find his primary receivers open. All four members of San Francisco's starting secondary made plays, and it went beyond them as reserves Marcus Hudson and Shawntae Spencer also made significant contributions. Arizona's longest reception of the evening was a 15-yard dump-off pass to running back Edgerrin James.
Complementary cornerbacks: The first game featuring Clements and Walt Harris as San Francisco's starting cornerbacks was a smashing success. Harris, the NFC leader in interceptions last year, began his second season in San Francisco with another pick on Arizona's first play from scrimmage, and he and Clements combined to record four passes defensed. More significantly, they smothered Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona's big receiver duo who had their way with the 49ers the past two years. Boldin and Fitzgerald combined for 34 receptions for 503 yards in two 2005 games against the 49ers and 21 receptions for 352 yards last year. On Monday, the duo combined for just 42 receiving yards.
Willis wows in NFL debut Rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, the team's first-round draft pick, displayed his sideline-to-sideline skills and finished his professional debut with a game-high 11 tackles to go along with one forced fumble and several plays in which he displayed his ferocious hitting ability.
Kick coverage: San Francisco's coverage units were superb, allowing Arizona just a 19.4 average on its five kickoff returns as the Cardinals' average starting drive after kickoffs was from their 22-yard line. The 49ers also stuffed the Cardinals on punt returns as Arizona averaged just 0.3 yards on its three returns. The Cardinals' average starting point on their 12 offensive possessions was their 28-yard line, and Arizona began just one drive outside its 30-yard line after a San Francisco punt or kickoff.
Coming through in the clutch: The San Francisco offense sputtered the entire game, but there's nothing like a game-winning 86-yard touchdown push in the final minutes to make up for it all. The 49ers produced 44 percent of their entire offensive yardage in the final three minutes when the only thing that would save them from bitter defeat was to go the length of the field against a defense that had limited them to just 30 yards total offense in the second half to that point.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Anemic offense: The 49ers had six or fewer plays on 11 of their 13 offensive possessions, and they produced only one first down on five of those drives and zero first downs on five others. The play-calling appeared weak and uninspired, San Francisco converted on just three of 12 third-down opportunities, the Niners controlled the ball for only 25 of the game's 60 minutes and they finished with just 194 yards of total offense, averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per play.
Dropped passes: Part of the problem was the 49ers couldn't hang on to Alex Smith's passes. Smith was much more accurate than his 15-of-31 passing numbers might suggest as his targets flat-out dropped at least seven passes - and maybe more. Several of those would have made the difference in keeping San Francisco drives moving forward.
Pass protection: Smith was sacked three times for 24 yards in losses - one of them resulting in a lost fumble - and had Arizona defenders in his face throughout the night. The right side of the line - guard Justin Smiley and rookie tackle Joe Staley - struggled in pass-blocking situations throughout the evening.
Rushing defense: The Cardinals were 30th in the NFL in rushing offense last year and 32nd - dead last - in average yards per rush. While Arizona has upgraded in that area this year, it was a bit disconcerting to see the Cardinals plough through San Francisco's revamped 3-4 defense for 161 yards on the ground while averaging 4.2 yards a pop.
UNITS THAT STOOD OUT
Defensive backs: Harris and Spencer recorded interceptions on Arizona's first and final offensive plays and this unit excelled in coverage, combining for eight passes defensed.
Linebackers: The playmakers of the 3-4 system did what they needed to do to make plays as starting linebackers Willis, Derek Smith, Manny Lawson and Tully Banta-Cain combined for 27 tackles and top reserve Brandon Moore had one tackle and one pass defensed while applying some good pressure on passing downs.
Special teams: The coverage units were superb, Andy Lee averaged 41.7 yards a punt with a 38.2 net - four yards better in each category than his Arizona counterpart - and Joe Nedney split the uprights with both his field-goal opportunities while sending his kickoffs deep and putting one in the end zone.
--- The 49ers opened the season with nine new starters compared to their opening-day lineup of 2006. The new starters on offense were wide receiver Darrell Jackson, right tackle Joe Staley and tight end Billy Bajema, as the team started the game in a two-tight end formation. The new starters on defense were nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Patrick Willis, cornerback Nate Clements and safeties Michael Lewis and Mark Roman.
--- For the second consecutive year, both of the 49ers' first-round draft picks were in the starting lineup on opening day as Willis and Staley both started in their professional debuts. Last season, both tight end Vernon Davis and linebacker Manny Lawson were in the starting lineup. Since joining the NFL in 1950, the 49ers have had multiple first-round draft choices a total of 17 times. With Willis and Staley taking their spots in the starting lineup, it marked the fifth time multiple first-round choices started the season opener during their rookie year for the 49ers. The others were defensive end Cedrick Hardman and cornerback Bruce Taylor in 1970, tight end Ken MacAfee and linebacker Dan Bunz in 1978 and defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and linebacker Todd Kelly in 1993.
--- Wide receiver Arnaz Battle scored his first NFL rushing touchdown to give the 49ers the victory in the final seconds. It was the 49ers' first rushing touchdown by a receiver since September 22, 2002, when Terrell Owens scored on a 38-yard touchdown run against the Washington Redskins. Battle also recorded game-high totals of six receptions and 60 receiving yards.
--- The 49ers held a 13-10 lead entering the fourth quarter Monday. Last season, the 49ers were 6-1 when leading in the fourth quarter.
--- Mike Nolan improved to 3-0 in home openers as head coach of the 49ers. In 2005, the 49ers beat St. Louis 28-25 on opening day and last season the 49ers evened their record at 1-1 with a 20-13 win against the Rams in their home opener. The 49ers will look for their first 2-0 start under Nolan when they travel to play the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday. The Niners are 3-1 against the Rams during Nolan's tenure.
Game rewind: 49ers 20, Cardinals 17
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