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Garoppolo rallies 49ers to win over Cardinals

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SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garoppolo overcame himself when the 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals 36-26.

The game came down to the end, primarily because Garoppolo threw two second-half interceptions in the red zone when he had chances to put away the three-win Cardinals for good.

And the 49ers won primarily because Garoppolo threw for 424 yards and four touchdown passes, including one touchdown pass to Jeff Wilson Jr. that won the game in the fourth quarter.

Good Jimmy bailed out Bad Jimmy, and now the 49ers are 9-1.

“There were definitely some good things,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And there were some really bad things. There were some things we got very excited about, and then we felt like we blew it a number of times.”

The 49ers defense blew it a few times. Gave up 135 rushing yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run to rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, which gave the Cardinals a 26-23 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

The 49ers running game also struggled. They rushed for only 34 yards — by far their lowest output of the season. Their previous low came last Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks, when the 49ers ran for 87 yards.

That Seahawks game and this Cardinals game had similarities.

Like the Seahawks, the Cardinals sold out to stop the 49ers run game and dared Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them if he could. And this strategy worked for Arizona, until it didn’t.

The 49ers fell behind 16-0 in the second quarter. They looked lifeless. “You try not to freak out,” Shanahan admitted. “Keep things in perspective.”

Shanahan found perspective, and two key adjustments. First, he rediscovered the screen passes which were non-existent against the Seahawks. Garoppolo completed a screen pass to Richie James Jr. with 9:03 left in the first half, and James ran for 57 yards.

“That screen to Richie James loosened them up,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan also adjusted his play-calling. Every time the Cardinals showed a blitz to stop the run on first or second down, Shanahan made Garoppolo change the play to a pass.

On the first play of the second half, Garoppolo changed the play at the line of scrimmage and threw a pass to Tevin Coleman, who gained 22 yards.

“We got a good feel for them going into the second half,” Garoppolo said.

Early in the third quarter, Garoppolo threw a touchdown pass to tight end Ross Dwelley, who made his second touchdown grab of the game. Dwelley started in place of George Kittle, arguably the team’s MVP. Kittle missed his second straight game with knee and ankle injuries.

“Ross has been great all year,” Shanahan said. “He was unbelievable taking over for Kyle Juszczyk when he was out, and has been great stepping up for Kittle. Ross has been one of the better football players on the team this year. He is as good of a football player as we have right now.”

Dwelley finished the game with four catches for 14 yards and two touchdowns. He was terrific, but not as terrific as rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who led the team with eight catches for 134 yards.

“He’s fearless,” Richard Sherman said of Samuel. “You get some receivers running across the middle, and they’re looking for who’s going to hit them. Deebo is looking for who he’s going to hit.”

Despite excellent performances from Samuel and Dwelley, the 49ers trailed 26-23 in the fourth quarter. And with 4:41 left in the game, Garoppolo threw his second pick. Things seemed bleak for the 49ers.

But, the defense forced a three and out. The offense got the ball back with 2:12 left, and Garoppolo drove it to the Cardinals’ 25-yard line with just 37 seconds left.

“We were in the huddle and Tevin Coleman was next to me,” Garoppolo said. “And then I went to the sideline, talked to Kyle, came back in and all of a sudden it was Jeff (Wilson Jr.) next to me.”

This was the key moment of the game.

Wilson hadn’t played a single offensive snap before this moment. He entered the game cold. “It was neat watching him do high knees in the huddle, trying to get warmed up for the route,” Shanahan recalled. “Glad he had the time to get loose, because we got the right look.”

The Cardinals blitzed more people than the 49ers could block, but made their best pass rusher, defensive end Chandler Jones, drop into man-to-man coverage and pick up Wilson.

Advantage: 49ers.

“He came at me with too much momentum,” Wilson said. “Obviously, I knew he was one of the better guys on their defense, but I also knew he was a defensive end. I knew his hips weren’t that good. He can’t move side to side, especially when his whole body is turned. I cut across his face and got the ball.”

Here’s what happened from Garoppolo’s perspective: “I felt the pressure up the middle and just put the ball out there and wanted him to make a play on it. I just heard the crowd erupt. I didn’t see him catch it.”

Here’s what happened from Wilson’s perspective: “Right before the play started, I saw a linebacker giving me the eye, trying to give the illusion that he had me. But as soon as I saw him scoot over a little bit, I knew Jones had me. I couldn’t see the ball when it came out of Jimmy’s hands. I just knew he was looking for me. So, I kept my eyes on him the whole time. I saw the ball come right past someone’s head and into my vision. I reached back and caught it.”

Touchdown. The 49ers took a 30-26 lead, then scored one more time on defense when D.J. Reed recovered an errant lateral and returned it for a touchdown.

The final score doesn’t reflect how close the game really was. The 49ers easily could have lost, just as they did against the Seahawks. But, Garoppolo wouldn’t let himself give this one away.

“Last week was just a tough, emotional loss,” Shanahan said. “You never really can put that to bed until you win another one. This game had a lot of similarities to it, which really challenged our will, challenged the guys’ character. The guys were ready for it. They rose to the occasion. We got stronger from the Seattle game, even though it didn’t go the way we wanted. And I believe we got stronger today.”

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