49ers takeaways: What we learned in 20-12 Week 16 win over Cardinals
What we learned as a 49ers spoiler was originally seen on NBC Sports Bayarea
The 49ers do not go to the playoffs.
And if the Arizona Cardinals don't make it into the postseason, they can look back and blame their Saturday game against the tenants at State Farm Stadium.
The 49ers on Saturday caused a 20-12 surprise for the Cardinals, who were seventh and last in the NFC playoff picture in week 16.
The 49ers, eliminated from the postseason race a week earlier, didn't look like a team playing a meaningless game.
The 49ers improved to 6-9 over the course of the season while the Cardinals fell to 9-6.
Kicker Robbie Gould missed two field goals and an extra point to give the Cardinals one last chance.
Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers vs Cardinals game.
Saleh's defense rises
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's unit was another strong argument for a position as NFL head coach.
It was an impressive three-hour interview.
Although the 49ers played without three defenders, including Javon Kinlaw, cornerback Richard Sherman and Safety Jimmie Ward, they didn't play like they were understaffed.
The 49ers played exceptionally well against Pro Bowl quarterback Kyler Murray.
The team was superbly produced by linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, plus the defensive field of Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, K'Waun Williams, Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris.
Each of these players has a lot to play as none of them are signed beyond this season.
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Verrett made a big game towards the end of the first half, breaking up a well-thrown pass for DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone. The game forced the Cardinals to be content with a field goal. Hopkins was shaken and a short time later was not available for a possible Hagel Mary attempt at the end of half.
In the first half, the Cardinals only managed 4.1 net yards per pass attempt.
The 49ers led 7-6 at halftime - the fewest points Arizona scored in the first 15 games of the season. Witherspoon made one of the games of the day when he picked Murray up in the end zone with less than five minutes of play time. Witherspoon broke the container back up so Murray could run 30 meters in a 4-1 game.
The 49ers' best player was also their healthiest, freshest player. Because of this, the 49ers took the risk that George Kittle could return for the final two games of the season.
Kittle was back on the grid. He saw more time on the sidelines than usual when Ross Dwelley and Jordan Reed turned into the game to ease Kittle's workload.
Kittle was targeted only once in the first half, and he caught a 24-yard pass 6:22 in the first quarter. He played 13 of the 49ers' 26 snaps in the first half.
Kittle got four passes for a team height of 92 meters. He caught all but one of the passports that got in his way.
Beathard takes care of business
C.J. Beathard made his first start since week 8 of the 2018 season.
The 49er offense was due to the run, which made it a little easier for Beathard.
Jeff Wilson rushed 22 runs to a career high of 183 meters.
Beathard completed 13 of 22 attempts for 182 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Beathard tossed touchdown passes to Wilson and Kyle Juszczyk so the 49ers could take a 14-6 lead by the end of the third quarter. Later, Juszczyk had another brief TD reception.
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Wilson carried a huge burden on the offensive as he started in place of Raheem Mostert, who was transferred to injured reserve on Friday with an ankle injury.
Beathard was fired three times in the first half when Mike McGlinchey continued to fight for pass protection with the right tackle.
But the 49ers kept Beathard well protected in the second half and he was better able to get rid of the ball quickly. He was not released.
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