MEXICO CITY (AP) — As the final minute ticked away, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo turned to the crowd at the Estadio Azteca, raised his hands above his head, and started to applaud.
It was clear that the Mexico City crowd loved the 49ers.
Jimmy G and the 49ers returned that love — and great football — right away.
Garoppolo threw four touchdown passes, including two to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, and the 49ers won their third straight game by beating the Arizona Cardinals 38-10 Monday night in Mexico City.
“The whole vibe tonight, I’ve never played in anything like this,” Garoppolo said. “It was electric, the fans were crazy, they cheered throughout the game. It felt like a football game at times, just the passion they brought. It was really cool. Would love to do it again .
It was the fifth regular season NFL game played in Mexico City and the first since 2019. Technically a home game for the Cardinals, the reported festive and boisterous crowd of 78,427 fans heavily favored the 49ers, roaring especially loudly when Kittle and Deebo Samuel each scored on 39 yard touchdowns.
“Man, I love San Francisco, but if we can’t be here, I love being here,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “This place is awesome. This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve been on.
San Francisco (6-4) has won five of its last seven games and is tied with the Seahawks for the top of the NFC West. Garoppolo had another effective performance, completing 20 of 29 passes for 228 yards.
It was a tight game for much of the first half, but the 49ers pulled away in the second half, jumping ahead 24-10 early in the third quarter on shrewd end-to-end play. Samuel took the field and sprinted for 39 yards, breaking through the Cardinals defense on his way to the end zone.
“It really was one of those poison-type nights,” Garoppolo said. “They tried to take the race away from us, so we passed it and then vice versa. It was a good night.”
He capped a mighty eight-game drive in San Francisco that included seven running games. Aiyuk’s second touchdown of the night — this one from 14 yards — put the 49ers up 31-10 later in the third.
“Hopefully we made a good impression,” 49ers defensive end Joey Bosa said.
The Cardinals (4-7) went their second straight game without Pro Bowl quarterback Kyler Murray, struggling with hamstring pain. Backup Colt McCoy was 3-1 in starts the past two seasons — including a win over the Rams last week — but couldn’t recreate the same magic in Mexico.
McCoy completed 24 of 34 passes for 218 yards and one interception. The 49ers hit him hard multiple times, connecting for three sacks.
“It’s just a shame we couldn’t find a way to win this game,” McCoy said. “But San Francisco played hard. They’re a good football team and we just haven’t made enough plays. But for the audience, for the atmosphere, to be able to play internationally in Mexico City, I thought it was fantastic.
The 49ers went 17-10 at halftime after Robbie Gould connected on a 39-yard field goal with 43 seconds left in the second quarter. That capped a back-and-forth first half that saw the teams earn nearly identical amounts of yardage: the 49ers had an 186-185 advantage.
The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter on Matt Prater’s 40-yard field goal as both teams faced steady rain that started around kickoff and continued for much of the first half.
The 49ers responded early in the second when Garoppolo hit Aiyuk down the middle for a 7-yard touchdown, capping a nine-play, 82-yard drive. San Francisco intercepted McCoy on ensuing practice after a pass bounced off James Conner’s hand and was snatched in the air by Jimmie Ward.
San Francisco capitalized three plays later when Garoppolo escaped the pressure and threw a pass to Kittle, who tossed two Arizona defenders then headed into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
The cavernous Estadio Azteca – home to two of Mexico’s top soccer teams – sits at an elevation of around 7,200 feet, which is much higher than San Francisco and Phoenix. The 49ers opted to train at altitude this week in Colorado, while the Cardinals decided to stay at their home training facility in Tempe, Arizona.
Arizona’s defense looked gassed in the second half, missing several tackles as the game slowly spiraled out of control.
“They were a really good team,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We knew we had to play as well as we have done all year. And I thought they really played physically in that second half and found a way to make plays.
BACK IN MEXICO
The teams met in Mexico City just over 17 years after playing the NFL’s first regular season game played in a country other than the United States. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers 31-14 on October 3, 2005, in front of 103,467 fans. . The stadium’s capacity has since been reduced for NFL games.
There were three more regular season games played in Mexico before Monday – all at the Estadio Azteca. The Raiders beat the Texans 27-20 in 2016, the Patriots beat the Raiders 33-8 in 2017, and the Chiefs beat the Chargers 24-17 in 2019.
49ers: DE Arik Armstead (foot/ankle) has been listed as inactive.
Cardinals: In addition to Murray, the Cardinals had three other starters listed as inactive, including CB Byron Murphy Jr. (back), OT DJ Humphries (back) and TE Zach Ertz (knee). Ertz is out for the season. … WR Rondale Moore (groin) left in the first quarter and did not return.
49ers: Welcome the Saints on Sunday.
Cardinals: Travel to face the Chargers on Sunday.
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