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GLENDALE, Ariz. ? The previous 10 drives were just a set-up. When the 49ers needed to put something together in their season opener Sunday, they went to the passing game.

The 49ers showed just enough life on offense, while the defense did most of the work in a 20-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals to spoil a day that began with the franchise hanging a banner as 2008 NFC champions.

?I could care less if it was an ugly game,? 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. ?It was beautiful for us.?

The Cardinals did not lose a game within the NFC West last season, as they won the division title and advanced to the Super Bowl, where the came within 35 seconds of defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Arizona looked downright ordinary against the 49ers.

?This was big, obviously,? 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill said. ?It?s the first game on the schedule. When the schedule came out, everybody got excited it was here, against these guys.?

The 49ers? defense pressured Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner into two interceptions and three sacks, including the game-ending play on which defensive lineman Justin Smith broke through to eliminate any possibility of a miraculous ending.

?We know with the guys we have up front, we?re able to get pretty consistent pressure on the quarterback,? Smith said. ?We just have to keep building on it.?

The 49ers held the Cardinals to one or fewer first downs on 10 of their 14 possessions in the game. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald, covered mostly by cornerback Nate Clements, had six receptions for 71 yards, including a 25-yard gain in the closing seconds that actually proved costly when he could not get out of bounds before Patrick Willis? tackle.

?It all goes hand-in-hand,? 49ers linebacker Parys Haralson said. ?When the defense is covering it up like they did (Sunday), it gives us time to get to the quarterback.?

The 49ers experienced plenty of struggles to establish any semblance of a running game. Frank Gore gained just 30 yards on 22 rushing attempts. On the 49ers? three other rushing attempts, they were stopped for minus-9 yards.

?That?s our style. Coach Singletary wants physical, hard-nosed football,? said Gore, who had a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same game for the first time in his NFL career.

?That?s what we have to do. They had a great game plan for our offense, but we got the ?W.? It was tough out there. It was tough on the ground. They came in thinking they were going to stop the run, and they did a great job.?

Hill finally got a chance to throw at the start of the fourth quarter, with the 49ers trailing 16-13. The 49ers put together a 15-play, 80-yard drive on which Hill completed 9 of 13 passes for 72 yards.

?It?s not like we were just being stubborn and sticking with the run,? said Hill, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards. ?What we did in the second half, that?s one of the reasons we were able to put together that drive.?

The 49ers scored the winning points on a third-down play when Gore snuck out of the backfield on a blitz. Hill found a passing lane and delivered the ball to Gore for an easy 3-yard score with 7:26 remaining.

?Up the middle and off the right side were where the blitzes were coming,? 49ers center Eric Heitmann said. ?And we wanted to make sure everything was protected off the backside of the quarterback. And that way, if he does get pressure, it?s just in his face and he can get rid of the ball. That?s the situation we were in, and they blitzed and Frank was open.?

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at matt.maiocco@pressdemocrat.com