This is the 49ers offense that was promised

George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers scores a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the fourth quarter at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 21, 2022.

George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers scores a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the fourth quarter at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 21, 2022.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Expectations have become a bit of a curse for the San Francisco 49ers, particularly this season.

Last year’s heartbreaking playoff exit set the stage for the end of the Jimmy Garoppolo era. Ten games into the season, Garoppolo is leading the offense while Trey Lance recovers from a devastating ankle injury.

The more notable expectation is one that haunts head coach Kyle Shanahan. After the team's injury-riddled start, Shanahan has a full complement of skill position studs, with Christian McCaffrey added to the mix to boot. In the first few games after the McCaffrey trade, however, Shanahan's offense looked like nothing to be scared of. 

On Monday night, finally, Shanahan's inventive play-calling and the Niners' execution met their terrifying potential.

For the first time this season, with a fully healthy offense, the team looked like the apex of what a Kyle Shanahan offense could do on a football field. The Niners were dynamic, and the play-calling varied in a way that broke the spirit of the Arizona defense — more on that later.

You don’t need to look any further than the drive that led to San Francisco’s opening touchdown. Every star got a touch and made productive gains for the drive. A pass to George Kittle was followed by a run from Christian McCaffrey, which was followed by a pass to Deebo Samuel, which was followed by another McCaffrey run, which was followed by another pass to Samuel and then ended with a touchdown by Brandon Aiyuk.

That drive set the tone for the rest of the evening. When the final whistle was blown, McCaffrey had 106 yards from scrimmage, Samuel had scored a 39-yard reverse end-around touchdown, Kittle had two touchdowns with 84 receiving yards, Aiyuk had a pair of touchdowns of his own, and even Garoppolo had a Mahomes-esque touchdown pass. 

Oh, and the team excelled rushing down the left side, even as Trent Williams’s nonissue of a tell was mentioned on the ESPN broadcast. This kind of performance is what many envisioned the team would be with everyone at full strength, and it's the type to inspire confidence that the Niners can go on the rest of the season, and enter the postseason, with dominance.

As for the Cardinals defense, it was about as defeated as one would hope an opponent would be after dealing with the fruits of the offense’s labor executing Shanahan’s playbook in such an effective way. Deflated performances were truly on display during two plays.

The first came during Kittle's second touchdown. The tight end, for what it’s worth, was wide open when he caught Garoppolo’s pass in the flat on the left side and went untouched for about 20 yards. However, as Kittle approached the 15-yard line, at least two Cardinal defenders could have made contact with him during his charge toward the end zone; the tight end even braced for contact as he approached these players. That contact would never come, as both Arizona players seemed to just stop and accept defeat as they allowed Kittle to dash into the end zone for yet another nail in an already secure coffin.

The second might be a bit unfair as it was garbage time, but it speaks to just how little pride the Arizona defense had left. 

Brock Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, was subbed in for Garoppolo with just under eight minutes left in the game. On his second play at the helm of this offense, he was forced to scramble due to a broken play. It’s worth mentioning that he broke the play because he turned the wrong direction while trying to hand off the ball to running back Jordan Mason.

One might think this would have been an easy play for a defender to get a tackle for loss given the chaos that had just ensued in the backfield, but it instead turned into a positive 5-yard gain for San Francisco. It’s hard to look more defeated than when even an opposing team’s mistakes end up working out for it.

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