SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Forget using the rest of this already-lost season as a means for the San Francisco 49ers to evaluate what they have in rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. After last week's trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Beathard's mission is no longer to try to prove that he can be a long-term starter.
It's to survive.
Playing behind a banged-up and patchwork offensive line on Sunday, Beathard was something akin to a pitcher starting the final game of a series and trying to preserve his bullpen no matter how many pitches he had to throw. Beathard was the Niners' sacrificial lamb against the Arizona Cardinals as the Niners lost 20-10 to drop to 0-9 on the season.
To Beathard's credit, he took five sacks as part of a total of 16 hits, managed to make it through the game without missing a snap and found a way to keep the Niners in it despite a supporting cast that, well, didn't offer much support.
Beathard led the Niners on a third-quarter scoring drive, punching it in from 1 yard out to draw the Niners within four points. And even as he watched more teammates leave with injury, he continued to battle. The numbers weren't pretty, as he finished 24-of-51 for 294 yards with an interception for a passer rating of 57.1. But, like last week, he wasn't really put in a position to succeed.
Coach Kyle Shanahan has repeatedly pointed to Beathard's toughness as one of his best traits. That was on full display on Sunday, and it allowed the Niners to keep Garoppolo in bubble wrap until he can get more time in the offense and they can get some key players healthy. It's not really fair to Beathard, but in Niners-land, that's as close to a win as it gets these days.
What it means: The Niners' ninth straight loss to open the season actually puts them a tick ahead of the Cleveland Browns in the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. That's because the Browns didn't play Sunday. At this point, the losses are starting to run together and don't mean much else in the grand scheme of things.
What the 49ers did well: As a whole, the defense again did its best to keep the Niners in this one. Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson went over 100 yards, but the 49ers made him work for it and mostly limited his big plays, as he finished with an average of 4.3 yards per rush. Aside from that, Beathard's toughness in the face of pressure was admirable even if it didn't translate to much production. The special teams were mostly solid, particularly the coverage units.
What the 49ers didn't do well: There were plenty of things to pick from for this list. It starts with protection, as Beathard took the aforementioned five sacks and 16 total hits. The running game had a couple of decent moments but was otherwise quiet, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. The Niners did manage to avoid stacking a lot of penalties, but the ones they got came at costly times. The same could be said for an early fumble by fullback Kyle Juszczyk. All told, it was another ugly day with more bad than good for San Francisco.
Fantasy fallout: There wasn't much reason to start any 49ers in this game with the exception of running back Carlos Hyde. And though Hyde found little room to run, he was effective in the passing game. He finished with 41 yards on 12 carries and nine catches for 84 yards. The worst news for Hyde owners? Beathard stole a touchdown from the 1, and Hyde was ejected late in the game for fighting.
Injuries keep piling up: After last week's injury-riddled loss to the Eagles, it didn't seem possible for things to get much worse for the Niners from a health perspective. But this week's game looked more like a continuation of last week than anything else. Safety Jaquiski Tartt (wrist), linebacker Elijah Lee (knee), tight end Cole Hikutini (knee), fullback Kyle Juszczyk (neck) and receiver Trent Taylor (ribs) all left Sunday's game and did not return. Add that to a group of six players who were already inactive because of injury and the Niners were working about as short-handed as a team possibly could.
What's next: The 49ers won't exactly be the center of the NFL universe again next week as they host the listless New York Giants in a game that will have NFL draft implications and not much else.