SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers began this season the way they ended the last one with another blown fourth-quarter lead.
Thirty-two weeks after a Super Bowl collapse against Kansas City, the Niners were unable to keep up with Arizona’s Kyler Murray or mount a late comeback and lost the season opener 24-20 to the Cardinals on Sunday.
San Francisco broke out to a 10-0 lead in less than six minutes and then sputtered most of the rest of the way on offense and couldn’t contain Murray and DeAndre Hopkins on defense.
“It’s just a reminder that we’re back at football,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That’s how football goes. We had a number of chances to win that game. We started off pretty well. I thought we had a chance to run away with it in the first half.”
But they weren’t able to maintain that after Jimmy Garoppolo’s 76-yard TD pass to Raheem Mostert on the opening play of the second drive made it 10-0.
Mitch Wishnowsky had a punt blocked to set up an Arizona touchdown, Mostert got stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and the offense put together only one sustained scoring drive the rest of the way.
After Murray’s 22-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a 17-13 lead, Garoppolo led an impressive drive capped by a 5-yard TD pass to Jerick McKinnon that put San Francisco back on top.
But the defense couldn’t hold it as Murray’s 33-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins set up Kenyan Drake’s 1-yard TD run and the Niners were unable to answer.
Garoppolo drove San Francisco down the field before Patrick Peterson broke up a pass to Kendrick Bourne in the end zone. Garoppolo then missed Trent Taylor on fourth-and-5 from the 16 to end the comeback attempt.
“We were in that situation plenty of times last year. When you get in those situations, obviously it was a little different today without the crowd, that game-day feel just wasn’t there. It just comes down to execution. Especially in the last couple of minutes like that, every play is crucial, every yard is crucial. We just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Garoppolo led the Niners on four fourth-quarter comebacks, including one against Arizona, last season to help the Niners win 13 games and make it to the Super Bowl.
But he fell apart down the stretch against the Chiefs with a 2.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter as the Niners saw a 20-10 lead turn into a 31-20 defeat.
That loss served as fuel all offseason as San Francisco hoped to get back to that stage again and finish the job. But that quest didn’t get off to a great start.
The Niners averaged only 4.8 yards per play after the first two drives as the offense sorely missed injured receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Tight end George Kittle also played through a leg injury suffered in the first half but wasn’t targeted once after halftime.
The defense was on the field for 78 plays on a smoky afternoon because of wildfires and wilted at the end. Murray ran for 91 yards and threw for 230 more, including 14 completions for 151 yards to Hopkins.
“It’s very frustrating,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “You play certain plays almost perfectly, and then he still gets a first down. You have plays stopped and he scrambles and takes it for a first down. It’s certainly a different challenge than usual, just an added dimension. But in this division, you have to deal with some pretty good quarterbacks. So, we could do a lot better.”
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