1st: The Arizona Cardinals are here to stay this season.
- The Cardinals success is not an early season mirage. As the NFL has watched other early season Cinderella's like Denver, Carolina and Las Vegas revert to the norm, the Cardinals have instead gone the opposite direction. The list of teams that really matter this season is pretty short and the Cardinals are on it. Their ability to win an ugly wrestling match against the 49ers proved their versatility of style. Their ability to win without sparkling performances from Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins proved their depth of talent. Their ability to win with two of their three starting cornerbacks proved their resiliency. This was pretty boy football if the pretty boy had a badass MMA background. The Cardinals matter, the rest of the league better get used to it.
1. This was Kliff Kingsbury's finest performance as head coach.
- This Cardinals team was prepared in every facet of the game. The 49ers thought they could physically intimidate the Cardinals and found out the Cardinals had been doing a prison workout all offseason. Instead of running from the fight, the Cardinals took it to them. The 4th and goal brick-walling of Trey Lance set a tone that the Cardinals managed to maintain for most of the game. That's a credit to Kliff. His team was prepared, they embraced the message and challenge and never broke ranks. Kliff hasn't answer all the questions about his leadership style but for now, whatever he is doing is undeniably working.
2. Kingsbury needs to adjust his wardrobe to better reflect the Cardinals new found style.
- After watching his team turn back the 49ers, Kliff's wardrobe needs a quick update. Ditch the Lululemon for Men collection and perfectly manicured stubble and bring on a handlebar mustache, leather jacket and weathered cowboy boots. Dress for success and Kliff is no exception.
3. The 49ers found out the hard way the Cardinals aren't the little brother anymore.
- When the 49ers stripped Chase Edmonds, it could've flipped the outcome of the game. Instead of being satisfied with finally getting a takeaway, the 49ers defense decided to celebrate by mocking Kyler's Budda pose touchdown celebration in the end zone. Mind you, the 49ers hadn't scored, were losing the game and were in Kyler's house. The player who tried trolling Kyler, Jimmie Ward, was the victim on the game sealing TD to Deandre Hopkins. This Cardinals team isn't a team you antagonize, State Farm Stadium isn't the stadium you get free range in and Kyler Murray is definitely not the quarterback to troll. The 49ers are the team with the Super Bowl run and prestige but this time they acted like the faceless, anonymous social media troll and Kyler Murray made sure they paid a real world price.
4. JJ Watt made a monster impact in this game.
- For a few weeks, JJ Watt had made more of an impact for the Cardinals social media numbers than he was making on the field. That changed on Sunday. Watt was the perfect physical counterweight for the Cardinals against the 49ers. Disruptive, dominant and downright destructive at times, Watt showed he had plenty left in the tank.
5. Rodney Hudson's injury bears very close watching.
- Hudson left the game in the second half with what was reported as a rib injury. Hudson has been a critically important piece of the Cardinals 2021 puzzle. Should he miss a game or two, Max Garcia should be capable of filling in and it might even provide a chance to develop quality depth at the position. If Hudson needs to miss any longer than that, it could be the difference between a home game in the playoffs or an early departure. Right now, Hudson's injury is the biggest Cardinals concern.
6. Maxx Williams injury is going to be a big adjustment for the offense
- Williams suffered a gnarly knee injury that will almost certainly set him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Entering the season Williams was barely an afterthought but through four games was on a historic pace. He was an extension of the offensive line when needed or Kyler's preferred safety blanket when necessary. Earlier in the game, he had delivered a Big Show-esque choke slam to a would be tackler showing his physicality in the running game. He had earned the trust and admiration from Kyler Murray and the entire offense and his injury briefly deflated the team. The options to replace Williams internally or externally are limited, he was unique but the Cardinals could compensate by deploying even more speed more often.
7. This game helped solidify Kyler's MVP frontrunner status.
- To not play your best game but still deliver the final blow against a division rival? That's what MVP seasons are made of. With very few exceptions, every MVP winner has a small handful of games that aren't statistically dominant. Kyler had one of those games but still led his team to a win and right now Kyler's best path to an MVP is for the Cardinals to be really, really good and in that respect Kyler was still plenty good enough on Sunday.
8. Isaiah Simmons hasn't quite justified his top 10 pick but he's getting a lot closer.
- Simmons was once again targeted by Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers offense. Despite making the dramatic TD saving tackle at the one yard line on Trey Lance, Simmons was consistently getting beat on angles and edges. In the second half, Vance Joseph wisely pivoted to more of a QB spy role for Simmons and the simplified approach worked as Simmons help corral Lance on several runs. Therein lies the Simmons situation as we speak: he's good enough to take a simplified job and excel in it but not quite good enough to manage every situation thrown at him. Only time will tell if he can eventually do both and justify his top 10 selection.
9. Under the Radar Stars
- Deandre Hopkins for not complaining or worrying about his targets and simply just making huge plays when his team needed them, Kelvin Beachum, James Conner, Andy Lee and Robert Alford.
10. What's Next?
- @ Cleveland. The kind of physical test the Cardinals survived can be like an earthquake. Even if you survive the initial quake, the after shocks can still get you. The Cardinals are going to feel the aftershocks of this win for a couple of days, will they have enough time before Cleveland to regroup? That will be a major challenge for a Browns team looking for revenge at home.