BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The San Francisco 49ers came into Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, and at least in the initial stages of the game, made a concerted effort to run the Arizona Cardinals into the ground.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the game a perfect 10-for-10 and had the Cardinals defense on the ropes. While the Cardinals were settling for field goals, the 49ers were scoring touchdowns.
San Francisco took a 14-6 lead into the half. For Arizona, some serious adjustments needed to be made or the 49ers were going to keep this “rivalry” one-sided.
Whatever head coach Bruce Arians and the players talked about at halftime worked, because the woes the 49ers have had in the second half this season continued.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles turned up the heat to 120 degrees, shut down the 49ers vaunted running game and Kaepernick. The 49ers had a major meltdown in the second half as well, with six penalties – including an unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Dan Skuta and a roughing the passer call on linebacker Patrick Willis – both coming on the same third quarter drive. That drive resulted in quarterback Drew Stanton hitting wide receiver John Brown for a 21-yard touchdown pass, their second such connection of the game.
That would prove to be the game-winning drive. The Cardinals outscored the 49ers 17-0 in the second half and remained unbeaten with a 23-14 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The win snaps San Francisco’s four-game winning streak in the series and moves the Cardinals to 3-0 for just the third time in the last 41 years (1974, 2012).
In three games, the 49ers have been outscored 52-3 in the second half.
“It was a great team win,” Arians said. “Everybody that had a hand in it, had a hand in it.”
“It was an amazing team victory,” Arians added. “I thought that we made some really good adjustments obviously at halftime.”
The 49ers played hyper-fast football offensively to start the game – hence Kaepernick’s perfect start and their success getting into the end zone. They scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, making it look easy.
It’s hard to game plan for guys like Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Frank Gore, and it showed early on.
“It was a pretty tough week defensively to get prepared, not knowing what they were going to do when they came out no huddle – five wides, four wides, move the ball on this end,” Arians said. “I knew once we got them out of that, we’d stop the run and get after the quarterback.”
The Cardinals defense completely eliminated the 49ers running game in the second half, holding them to 16 yards rushing in the third and fourth quarters.
Gore rushed the ball six times for a total of 10 yards. He had just one rush in the entire second half.
The adjustments the Cardinals made defensively seemed to give the 49ers fits.
“Look what they did, what we did on the field is the looks they gave us,” Gore said. “You can answer that.
Quarterback Drew Stanton won his fourth straight start dating back to 2010. He went 18-of-33 for 244 yards passing, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was an emotional win for Stanton because the 49ers were the first team he started against back on Dec. 27, 2009 when he was with the Lions. Stanton threw three interceptions in the first half of that game and was benched for Daunte Culpepper.
Stanton and the Lions lost that day, but he and his new team were victorious on Sunday.
“It felt really good to come out here and get a win,” Stanton said. “I feel like a little bit of a weight came off my shoulders today, without a doubt.”
The Cardinals offense could only muster 129 yards of offense in the first half, but turned things around in the second half when they decided to take the top off San Francisco’s defense.
“I knew we needed a spark and that’s what you always need,” Stanton said. “We wanted to let our guys make plays and the opportunity presented itself on third and long [Michael Floyd’s 45-yard catch in the third quarter].”
“We ran the ball well again,” Stanton said. “Andre [Ellington] is a huge sparkplug for us and we just started leaning on him and wearing them down toward the end and then to ice that at the end there was huge.”
Brown is really making a name for himself slowly but surely, and he didn’t disappoint with his mother in attendance.
“Coming out the whole practice week, the game plan was around me to try to get the ball in my hands more, because a lot of people are looking at Larry [Fitzgerald] and Michael [Floyd],” Brown said. “It just opened up big time, so I was just prepared for it.”
In his heart, Brown knew a day like this was coming his way.
“The crazy thing about it – me and [safety] Deone [Bucannon], we were roommates and I told him this morning when we woke up, I was like ‘I feel a touchdown early,’ and he was just like ‘Ok, we’re going to see,’” Brown said. “That was the second time I told him when we were in the same room together and I scored both games.”
The Cardinals saw their special teams come up big as well on Sunday. The 49ers lined up for a 45-yard field goal in the early stages of the fourth quarter, which would’ve cut Arizona’s lead to 20-17. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly stuck his right arm up and blocked Phil Dawson’s kick. That block kept the momentum on the Cardinals side.
“I have a nice little red mark right there [on inside of his forearm],” Kelly said. “It feels good though, it feels good, it feels real good.”
Kelly had a feeling the game was on lock after he blocked Dawson’s kick.
“Yeah, I just think guys were tired of losing-tired of losing and coming up short end,” Kelly said. “I was like ‘Guys, we ain’t losing this one.’”
Arians talked during the week, saying it would be great to win September, and the Cardinals did. Now they can get ready for a much-needed bye.
“I don’t like them early, but this comes at a good time for us because some of the guys that are beat up,” Arians said. “Hopefully we’ve got Andre [Ellington] totally healthy, Frostee [Rucker] totally healthy and some of the other guys, and we’ll look at our practice.”
“I’m sure we’re not going to go as hard as last year and have a blood-letting practice this week, but we’ll wait and see.”