49ers’ Christian McCaffrey scores 4 TDs in win vs. Cardinals; San Francisco now 4-0

By Matt Barrows, David Lombardi and Doug Haller

Christian McCaffrey scored four touchdowns to help the San Francisco 49ers to a 35-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • McCaffrey rushed for two TDs and found the end zone for the third time on a 6-yard pass from Brock Purdy in the first half. The 49ers (4-0) tailback added a third rushing TD in the fourth quarter.
  • McCaffrey became the fourth player since 1990 to score a touchdown in 13 consecutive games. He came into Sunday’s matchup as the NFL’s leading rusher with 353 yards. He added 106 rushing yards Sunday, along with seven receptions for 71 yards.
  • Meanwhile, Purdy only had one incomplete pass in the win. He went 20-of-21 passing for 283 yards with one TD pass for a 134.6 passer rating. Purdy added a fourth-quarter rushing TD.
  • Cardinals (1-3) quarterback Josh Dobbs went 28-of-41 passing for 265 yards with two TD passes for a 102.2 passer rating.

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The Athletic’s instant analysis:

McCaffrey dominates

This was another dominant performance from McCaffrey, who continues to give the 49ers the tremendous luxury of fielding a safety valve who’s also one of the most explosive threats in the NFL. McCaffrey scored four touchdowns, including a hurdling highlight over Arizona cornerback Kei’Trel Clark. After Sunday’s 106-yard performance, McCaffrey remains the league’s leading rusher through four games. His seven catches for 71 yards were also instrumental in making matters look easy for the 49ers’ offense, which faced only five third-down situations all game.

Purdy, whose 20-of-21 outing (95.2 percent) broke Alex Smith’s franchise record for single-game completion percentage, was certainly a co-driver of the 49ers’ precise offensive effort. But the immense threat of McCaffrey in all phases of the attack fits to perfection in Kyle Shanahan’s system. — Lombardi

Purdy stays strong

It was another ultra-efficient game for Purdy, who didn’t throw an incompletion until the 10:48 mark in the third quarter. Purdy didn’t have No. 3 receiver Jauan Jennings at his disposal and Deebo Samuel may not have been 100 percent either. He wasn’t targeted in the passing game. It didn’t matter on a talent-laden 49ers offense. Purdy essentially alternated between short passes to McCaffrey and long ones to Brandon Aiyuk throughout the game. Aiyuk, who missed last week’s game against the Giants due to a shoulder injury, caught all six targets and finished with a career-high 148 receiving yards. — Barrows

Cardinals stay true to run game

Though the Cardinals fell behind 21-3 early on, they never abandoned James Conner and the running game. The approach helped keep the chains moving and kept the 49ers from teeing off on Dobbs. The Cardinals also had converted seven of 12 third-down attempts until Javon Hargrave’s third-down sack midway through the fourth quarter. It was Hargrave’s third sack of the season (tying him with Drake Jackson for the team lead) but San Francisco’s only sack of the contest. — Barrows

49ers defense has roller-coaster day

It was a tale of three stretches for the 49ers’ defense, which looked great early before Arizona converted a fourth down on a fake punt late in the first half. The Cardinals’ offense dominated over two long touchdown drives after that, but the 49ers’ defense rediscovered stability thanks to complementary football — its offense re-opened a comfortable lead in the third quarter.

Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, the 49ers’ two speedy linebackers, combined for 20 tackles (10 apiece) in yet another strong effort.

It certainly wasn’t perfect for the 49ers on that side of the ball, as Arizona was able to deflate San Francisco’s pass rush with its effective run game. But the 49ers generally kept the Cardinals in front of them and did enough for their offense to pull away for another multiscore victory. That’s a winning formula. — Lombardi

What we learned about the Cardinals

Arizona is better than expected, but the Cardinals aren’t ready to challenge a Super Bowl contender like San Francisco. That was clear Sunday. A 99-yard drive to pull within 21-16 late in the third quarter was the day’s highlight, but the 49ers quickly regrouped and flexed, scoring the game’s final 14 points.

With Kyler Murray weeks from returning, this could be a defining stretch. The Cardinals’ next four games are against the Cincinnati Bengals, at the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, and against the Baltimore Ravens. Their best play is to focus on improvement and stay as close to .500 as possible until Murray returns. Despite Sunday’s outcome, that isn’t too far-fetched. A month ago no one would have agreed. — Haller

Wilson emerging as a bright spot

The Cardinals have found something in Michael Wilson. The rookie from Stanford had impressive skills entering the draft but he battled injuries throughout his college career. It made him difficult to evaluate. Arizona took Wilson in the third round and he has been better than expected. In last week’s win over Dallas, Wilson had Arizona’s biggest offensive play, a key 69-yard catch that led to a fourth-quarter touchdown. In Sunday’s loss to San Francisco, Wilson had seven catches for 76 yards. After the Cardinals in May released DeAndre Hopkins, it wasn’t clear who would emerge as a top target alongside Hollywood Brown. Through four games, Wilson has been that guy. — Haller

Required reading

(Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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