San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was already deserving of a head-coaching job after his group led the charge for last season's NFC champions.
But as dominant as that group was, an argument could be made that Saleh has done his best work this year while patching together a defense missing most of its key components all season. An equally good argument could be made that Saturday's 20-12 upset victory against the Arizona Cardinals was Saleh's finest performance of the season.
In three previous meetings against dynamic Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, he's given the 49ers (6-9) fits, knocking them off in Week 1 this season and nearly beating them twice in 2019. Saleh found the right answers for Murray & Co. on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.
Saleh's patchwork defense held the Cardinals to 12 points, sacked Murray three times and forced a pair of turnovers, including cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon's interception late in the fourth quarter to help put the game away. All of that without the services of two starting safeties, the 49ers' two best outside pass-rushers, starting 3-technique defensive tackle and a starting cornerback.
"Best DC in the league,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “I love that guy. I know he’s going to be a great head coach one day soon.”
Saturday's win did no favors for the 49ers' draft position, but it's another strong selling point for Saleh, who should be on the list of every team in need of a head coach going into the hiring cycle, if he wasn't already.
Buy a breakout performance: Niners running back Jeff Wilson Jr. had strong outing against the Patriots in Week 7, posting a career-high 112 rushing yards, but he suffered a high ankle sprain that dampened his big day. But Wilson is back to form and had the best game of his career Saturday. Wilson went for 183 yards on 22 carries to go with a 21-yard touchdown catch.
Wilson is slated to be a restricted free agent this offseason, but he's made a convincing case to return at a second-round tender amount and, at worst, be the 49ers' No. 2 running back in 2021.
QB breakdown: Making his first start since 2018, C.J. Beathard did what was asked of him. Which is to say he didn't do much of the one thing the 49ers didn't want him to do: turn the ball over.
The Niners have been plagued by giveaways for most of the second half of the season, but Beathard mostly took care of the ball and didn't make many glaring mistakes aside from a fumble that would have been tough to avoid. He finished 13-of-22 for 182 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 125.4.
Welcome back, Kittle: 49ers tight end George Kittle returned from the broken foot that kept him out since Nov. 1 and made his presence felt as a pass-catcher and a blocker. Although he played limited snaps, Kittle finished with four catches for 92 yards and opened some of the holes that allowed Wilson to break loose for his career day.
Troubling trend: Normally reliable kicker Robbie Gould had a rough outing, missing three relatively easy kicks, including an extra point and field goal attempts of 41 and 37 yards.