Breaking down the game

Analyzing and categorizing the 49ers' 17-14 victory over the Cardinals on Saturday in Arizona:


It was a game of near misses for Jeff Garcia, who several times had receivers streaking free in the Arizona secondary only to have his passes go off their fingertips. Some of those passes should have been caught. Some were a bit off target. But Garcia had an otherwise strong game, starting with a flurry of completions and keeping the offense moving throughout the afternoon, though it bogged down a few times in the red zone. He appeared to be in his element all day, and made sure the Niners never lost control of the game. He probably played better than his numbers (23 of 39 for 258 yards passing) would suggest. Bottom line: Pro Bowl QB took control of offense without his top weapon available.


The Niners never broke the big run, but both Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow came close a few times, and both ran hard when given the opportunities. Hearst displayed some good inside power on his touchdown run. Fred Beasley again was a hammer as a blocker, and he looked smooth rolling out of the backfield to catch a 25-yard touchdown pass for the game's first score. But he also lost an uncharacteristic fumble that gave Arizona a chance to make it close at the end. Bottom line: 101 yards rushing, 34 receiving for unit that actually played better than those numbers.


In his audition as a featured receiver, Tai Streets gets high marks. With All-Pro Terrell Owens missing the game to rest some minor injuries, Streets had game-high totals of eight receptions for 90 yards and clearly was the best receiver on the field. He made some nice catches in traffic and improvised a few times to get open, producing a 33-yard gain on such a play. But he also couldn't hold on to a pass that could have gone for a 98-yard touchdown. J.J. Stokes had four receptions in place of Owens, but he also had several drops, including one that would have been a touchdown and another that halted a drive on third down. Stokes also displayed a lack of athleticism getting to the ball. Cedrick Wilson was more impressive with four receptions for 56 yards, including a 22-yard gain. Tight ends Eric Johnson and Justin Swift combined for five receptions, and they weren't all easy. Bottom line: Unit got by awfully well without Owens.


The Niners finished the game with Matt Willig playing in place of Derrick Deese at left tackle and rookie Kyle Kosier in place of Ron Stone at right guard. After Stone gave the Niners a scare by leaving with a leg injury, the team continued to run in the same holes behind Kosier, and he produced on several occasions. The pass blocking for Garcia was very good, and center Jeremy Newberry and right tackle Scott Gragg both had solid games. Bottom line: No let up with reserves in game.


The heat has returned. This was San Francisco's best pass rush of the season, and the Niners really teed off on Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer, who was sacked five times. Ends Andre Carter and Chike Okeafor accounted for three of those sacks and rookie tackle Josh Shaw contributed the first of his career. Carter and Okeafor also were active against the run - they combined for nine tackles - and tackles Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield were good at absorbing blockers, as usual, with Stubblefield being particularly stout in making plays. Bottom line: Unit came alive in big way after several mediocre outings.


Seemingly inspired by his recent Pro Bowl selection, Julian Peterson was all over the field and appears to be approaching an elite level. He had seven tackles, recovered a fumble, almost had an interception and was around the ball all day. So was Derek Smith, who forced the fumble recovered by Peterson and had a game-high nine tackles. And so was Jeff Ulbrich, who had seven tackles and earned half a sack on a blitz. Bottom line: Quick, aggressive unit continues to improve and is playing at its best.


Cornerback Ahmed Plummer had great coverage on a long pass that he tipped in the air for safety Tony Parrish to intercept and return 28 yards. Plummer knocked down two passes and Parrish had three deflections in another strong individual outing. Jason Webster made some nice plays in coverage but also gave up a few key receptions. Mike Rumph and John Keith combined for six tackles and Ronnie Heard was OK in his return to action. Bottom line: Parrish and Plummer the playmakers on this day.


Before the first quarter was over, Jeff Chandler already had missed two 42-yard field goals and sent the opening kickoff only to the Arizona 22-yard line. He also had a kickoff come down at the Arizona 24. Bill LaFleur appears to be improving as the punter, the coverage units were fine, and Cedrick Wilson displayed some ability and assuredness returning kicks. His 37-yard kickoff return sparked the Niners to their final touchdown, which proved to be the difference in the game. Bottom line: The Niners don't need this from Chandler. Not now. Definitely not in the playoffs.


With nothing on the line, the Niners came out with energy and intensity and sustained that to the finish. Coaches mixed up plays well on offense, and blitzes helped defense have perhaps its best game of the season. Considering the circumstances, the Niners couldn't have played much better. They rested several key players, and still left town with a victory, momentum, and some growing confidence. Bottom line: Coaches played this one just right, and worthy team responded with win.

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