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49ers’ defense gets third straight second-half shutout in win over Cardinals

With the Arizona Cardinals moving the ball well in the first half Monday night, it looked as if it was finally going to be time for the 49ers’ offense to bail out their defense.

Then came the second half, which means it was time for the 49ers’ defense to assume its rightful place atop the NFL food chain.

If the people weren’t aware on a national scale that the 49ers are something special defensively, they made themselves internationally known in a 38-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

When Samuel Womack III intercepted a Trace McSorley pass in the end zone with 2:07 to play, it assured the 49ers their third consecutive shutout over the final two quarters dating back to their unsightly but probably beneficial blowout 44-23 blowout at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 49ers trailed the Los Angeles Rams 14-10 at halftime on Oct. 30 and won 31-14. They were down 16-10 to the Los Angeles Chargers coming off a bye and won 22-16. At Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, the 49ers led the Cardinals 17-10 at halftime and won 38-10.

That’s a 54-0 margin in the second half of those three games, with the 49ers’ defense responsible for the big goose egg.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was impressed, taking note even as he was studying up for the next offensive possession.

“I don’t get to enjoy all of it but you can feel it from the sideline,” Garoppolo told ESPN. “They’re hitting, they’re making plays and they’re having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about.”

The 49ers are 6-4 and basically in first place in the NFC West given their 4-0 record in the division including a decisive Week 2 win over Seattle, also 6-4, in Week 2. Their defense essentially put two playoff teams, the Rams and Cardinals, out of their misery for the 2022 season.

Make no mistake. While the 49ers had their coming out party in terms of properly utilizing their weapons, the unit run by defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has been doing that all season with the exception of two games.

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If the 49ers can remain healthy and actually get back defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw they could be even better.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone who watched open practices during training camp, when the defense had its way throughout and made things extremely difficult for second-year quarterback Trey Lance.

“We went against them through all OTAs, all training camp, so that was exhilarating,” tight end George Kittle told the NFL Network. “We know how good they are. We’re missing some core pieces on that D-line. Guys are stepping up. Our linebackers are playing at a high level, our two safeties are playing at a high level, our young guys are playing at a high level, and Nick Bosa is Nick Bosa, so that’s pretty helpful.”

Had the 49ers’ offense been anywhere near as good as the defense in the early going, the 49ers would have no more than two losses, considering they were seriously undermanned in terms of injured defensive starters in their road loss in Atlanta.

In the first half, quarterback Colt McCoy passed for 160 yards and the Cardinals had some success getting the ball out quick, usually to DeAndre Hopkins. McCoy, starting for Kyler Murray (hamstring strain), didn’t make it to the finish. Arizona had 159 yards in the second half and no points.

That came after giving up all of 52 yards in the second half to the Chargers and 115 yards in the second half to the Rams.

In a three-game homestand to come, only Miami on Dec. 4 looks capable of pushing the 49ers. They next get New Orleans on a short week with Andy Dalton. Tampa Bay, which comes after the Dolphins game, has struggled on offense all season without enough playmakers to allow Tom Brady to flourish.

The 49ers had two takeaways (and no turnovers on offense), with Jimmie Ward coming up with a first-half deflected interception that helped set up a short-field drive culminating in Garoppolo’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Kittle for a 14-3 lead.

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49ers defensive end Drake Jackson (95) pressures backup Arizona quarterback Trace McSorley Monday night in Mexico City. Getty Images

Ward may feel miscast as a slot corner with the arrival of Tashaun Gipson, but he’s perfectly suited for the role. He was exactly where he needed to be when McCoy’s pass bounced off the hands of James Conner and into his hands.

The second interception by Womack, preserved the latest second-half shutout. Add in a pair of fourth-down stops in the second half and the 49ers gave an offense hitting on all cylinders the ball back four times.

Hopkins, who had seven catches for 77 yards in the first half, caught just two passes for 14 yards in the second half. The Cardinals averaged only 2.8 yards per carry and the 49ers piled up an amazing nine tackles for losses split among six players.

Fred Warner, Bosa and Kevin Givens all had sacks of McCoy, whose whole mindset is geared toward getting rid of the ball quickly and avoiding the sack.

It’s not as if Ryans won’t have a few items on the agenda that need improvement, most notably giving up eight third-down conversions in 16 attempts.

Truth be told, the 49ers looked affected by the altitude early on, cornerback Charvarrus Ward in particular. But if the way they played in the second half was any indication, their decision to train in altitude paid dividends.

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