The Arizona Cardinals did something on Sunday that had done once against the San Francisco 49ers in their last ten meetings. Win. Moving to 3-0 now on the season with the 23-14 victory over their division rival.
“It’s huge,” said Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians after the win. “We talked about winning games in our division at home and making this a tough place to come to. It was a big victory for us…to go undefeated in September is huge for us with all the things that have gone on.”
Here are five takeaways from the game.
Tale of two half’s for defense: The 49ers started off on a clinic offensively with two long drives which resulted in two touchdowns. The first a Crabtree touchdown reception and then a Carlos Hyde rushing TD. On the two drives combined, Kaepernick was unstoppable throwing 11 of 12 for 94 yards and rushing eight times for 44 yards. The Cardinals lacking the playmaking linebacking core lead by Dansby and Washington had not severely been missed through the first two games. It was definitely evident in the first half as Kaepernick was in complete control and made everything look easy.
The second half was another story. The Cardinals defense did not allow a single point in the second half and made Kaepernick look uncomfortable. Arians said after the game that the players on defense made some great adjustments, took away the run and depending on the scheme, had a player assigned to shadow Kaepernick on every play. Tony Jefferson made some big plays leading the team with eight total tackles and the team’s only sack. The Cardinals have now through three games not allowed a point in the fourth quarter and have held opponents under 20 points for three consecutive games.
“We missed some tackles early on and they came out and ran a little zone-read option, threw some short stuff inside and we missed tackles,” said Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. “Too excited. We kind of settled down a little bit in the second half and just played football.”
“Nothing; just regroup,” mentioned Jefferson on the message at halftime. “Just go back out there and play our football.Just don’t try to do too much. Just do your job and we did that.”
“I want us to do things that are going to help us win games,” said 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh when asked if he was shocked the way the second half played out.
Phx’s new favorite Gorilla: The Suns Gorilla may not appreciate this but there is a new Gorilla in town that is winning the hearts of valley fans. Pittsburg State Gorilla John Brown was huge in the Cardinals charge to retake the lead in the third quarter with two touchdown catches. Brown’s breakaway speed help create separation on both the TD catches which is exactly what Arians and GM Steve Keim envisions when selecting him in the 2014 Draft. Sunday’s two scores makes Brown the first Cardinals rookie with three receiving TDs in first three games since Steve Lach had three in 1942 and the first with three TDs total in first three games since Gern Nagler in 1953.
“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 stated. “It just opened up big time and I was prepared for it.”
“The game comes to him a lot easier than for most rookies,” added Drew Stanton about Brown. “He understands B.A.’s offense and has a good package to get him in there and allow him to do what he does.”
Block Party: Early in the fourth quarter, Phil Dawson had his field goal blocked by Tommy Kelly to keep the score 20-14. That was the 17th blocked field goal that the Cardinals have had since 2008 which is the best of any team in the NFL in that span. They have 19 total blocks if you include a blocked extra point and blocked punt which is also a lead best in that span. The Special teams play over the last two seasons in particular is one of the many reasons for the Cardinals improved play under Head Coach Bruce Arians.
“I have a nice little red mark there,” Kelly said pointing to his forearm. “It feels good though. It feels real good.”
“I took the field, everything felt great, expecting to make the kick, and it got blocked,” said 49ers kicker Phil Dawson after the game. “You expect to make every kick. When you hear the dreaded double thud it seldom is a good thing.”
How they Drew it up: So much credit needs to be given to Drew Stanton and how he has responded for this Cardinals team over the last two weeks. After a solid performance leading the Cardinals to victory in New York where he found out he was going to make his first start since 2010 just hours before, he follows up with an even better performance in an extremely important divisional game on Sunday. He made some perfect throws, had some perfectly executed punk fakes that lead to completions, and most notably, no turnovers now for two consecutive games which is all you can ask of from the back-up quarterback. He finished the game going 18 of 33 for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Stanton drew some tears after the win and explained why after the game.
“This is my eighth year in the league and my sixth start and my first one was against these guys and I got benched,” he explained. “It felt really good to come out here and get a win. I have never been a guy that cared much about stats, I’ve cared more about the team and about winning. But that one stung me…and I feel like a little weight came off my shoulders without a doubt.”
“He’s tough as nails,” added Arians. “Drew prepares every week like he is going to be the starter. His questions, he’s talking to Carson (Palmer) constantly, he’s perfect in his preparation. Now he’s getting all the reps and really, his preparation hasn’t changed other than getting reps in practice and taking them out to the ball game.”
First place: With the win, the Cardinals maintain their first place standing in the NFC West going into their bye week. They have a virtual three game lead on the 49ers now being two games up and holding the tie breaker and was almost two games up on the Seahawks as well who needed overtime to hold off the Broncos on Sunday. Bruce Arians said after the game that he normally does not like having an early bye but with the players that are dinged up like Carson Palmer, Frostee Rucker and now add Antonio Cromartie to that list, a week of rest could be just what the doctor ordered. Up next will be a matchup with Payton Manning and the Broncos in Denver on October 5th.
“Larry Foote said it all week, ‘it’s a lot better going into a bye week winning than losing,’” mentioned Michael Floyd. “That all engrained in our minds and we wanted to make sure we went into the bye with a W. My first two years we had it in week 8 so that was great, I think it is a good time for us because we have a big game in two weeks versus the Broncos.”