BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – All week long, the Arizona Cardinals talked about their game with the San Francisco 49ers not being a trap game, with them being 8-2, and the 49ers being 3-7. They realized that, as an organization, they haven’t had much success against the 49ers lately, losing 10 of their last 13 games against them, including not winning in the state of California since 2008.
The 49ers gave the Cardinals everything they had on Sunday and almost extended their woes in the Golden State.
With the game tied at 13, and 2:35 remaining in the game, it was on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer to do something to break the tie, and break it he did. Palmer showed he’s got some jets when he needs to turn them on. He scrambled and ran eight yards for what turned out to be the game-winning score, as Arizona dodged a major upset bullet from San Francisco with their 19-13 win at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“We’re extremely happy with a win,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “Like I always say, you learn a lot more by almost losing than you do anything. Really I don’t think it was anything to do with traps and all that (expletive). We struggled at times. They’re (49ers) a good football team, and they’re getting better.”
The league’s leading touchdown thrower didn’t get one on Sunday, but credit must be given to how hard the 49ers played on defense. Palmer ended up 24-of-40 for 271 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Just because he didn’t throw a touchdown pass didn’t mean Palmer didn’t chuck it down the field because he did. He hit wide receiver John Brown on a 48-yard pass play, he hit wide receiver J.J. Nelson on a 34-yard pass play, and he connected with Brown again on a 20-yard pass play.
Brown led all receivers with 99 yards on five catches, but Palmer’s most used target was Larry Fitzgerald, who was targeted 14 times. Fitzgerald caught 10 of them for 66 yards.
“The last four or five years those guys (49ers) have played really good football,” Palmer said. “They’ve played really good defense. They’re extremely well-coached. They’ve had a tough season but they came to fight. That’s what we’re going to get, being on top the way we are. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. It was just one of those games. It was an NFC West fight, a great road win against a team that gave us their A game. We maybe didn’t have our A game today, but to get away with a win in this environment shows a lot of resiliency and what kind of fight this team has.”
It was hard sledding getting yards on the ground against San Francisco’s defense. They were able to hold the NFL’s 10th-best rushing attack to just 70 yards on 29 rushes.
“It was a tough day out there,” said running back Chris Johnson, who had 17 yards rushing on 12 carries. “We have to look at the film and see where things went wrong. I’m just happy for the win. It’s always easier to correct mistakes with a win, rather than a loss.”
The Cardinals have to be holding their collective breaths, because they lost their top two running backs to injuries in the third quarter, not to mention them losing cornerback Jerraud Powers to a right calf injury. Chris Johnson (left knee) and Andre Ellington (left foot) both headed off to the locker room, leaving the team with only two running backs – rookie David Johnson and Stepfan Taylor.
On the defensive side, they bent, but they did not break. San Francisco actually outgained Arizona 368-337 in total yards, but a big reason why they were only able to muster up 13 points was because the defense clamped down on third down, allowing the 49ers no third down conversions (0-9).
49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert played very well for it to be just his third start of the season. He was 25-of-36 for 318 yards, one touchdown pass and one interception, courtesy of cornerback/safety Tyrann Mathieu. He was also sacked twice, with the biggest sack of all coming from safety Tony Jefferson, who sacked Gabbert on a third-and-10 play with 1:27 left in the fourth quarter.
“A couple of times we had him (Gabbert) in the pocket and he was able to use his legs and create throws down the field,” Mathieu said. “I think that helped him out a lot. Even on critical third downs he was able to extend some plays and find the open receiver. I thought he played a pretty good game.”
Speaking of Mathieu, he was a monster out on the field on Sunday afternoon. He led Arizona’s defense with 13 tackles. In addition to the interception, Mathieu also had two passes defensed, and one tackle for loss.
“Well I gave up a touchdown, so it kind of negates the good game I had,” Mathieu said. “There are a lot of things I can work on and get better at and I think that is the goal.”
The defense had some early issues with 49ers running back Shaun Draughn, who rushed for 36 yards on his first three carries. They made the proper adjustments, and made it much harder for Draughn to do anything after that. In his next 12 carries, Draughn only gained 15 more yards to total out with 51. As a team, the 49ers only had 67 yards rushing.
After losing two tightly contested games to the St. Louis Rams (24-22) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (25-13), the Cardinals have seemingly mastered the art of winning the close game, having won two straight battles on Sunday Night Football against the Seahawks and Bengals, and now coming out victorious against a very game 49ers team.
Wins like this can do wonders for the team’s mental psyche moving forward in the season, with them knowing that when the chips are down, and things are super tight, they can overcome anything and come out with a win.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson says the defense won’t be off on Monday. Being the captain of the defense, he made the call after the game that they will watch film, and get a start on fixing the mistakes they made on Sunday.
“I have to make sure our guys are ready for this run of the season,” Peterson said. “These next five games are very important. If we want to be home for playoff games, we have to make sure we win them. Minnesota (Vikings) is playing good ball. Although Green Bay (Packers) lost, they’re playing good ball. We have to play those guys eventually, so we have to make sure we win those games. We have to start out fast and have good energy so we can give ourselves a good chance to win.”
NOTE: All quotes are courtesy of the Cardinals and 49ers Media Relations Departments.