J.J. Nelson smiled. His thoughts on his soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback racing toward the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown?
“A sigh of relief,” Nelson said.
It’s hard to think of it any other way. This wasn’t like the 47-7 beatdown the Cardinals put on the 49ers back in September. San Francisco has a better quarterback behind center (I can’t believe I typed that, but it is true) than it did then. Still, the Cards only allowed 13 points. What was the cold water on the face Sunday was the Cards’ inability to consistently score and definitely the inability to generate a steady run game. That’s the first game all season Carson Palmer didn’t throw a touchdown pass. It’s so odd to think the Cards won the turnover battle for the first time a month-plus yet had to work so hard to finish off the Niners.
Here’s all you need to know: Bruce Arians gave the players a Victory Monday off — and immediately, Patrick Peterson jumped in and told the defensive players they have to be in by 11 Monday. “We’ve got to fix this,” he said.
— I’ve been wracking my brain since the sequence happened early in the second half, but I cannot remember a weirder sequence than the one during which the Cards scored their first touchdown – nor can I remember a sequence in both sides were frustrated.
It started with a first-and-goal at the SF 3. The Cardinals ended up running nine plays inside the 5. Four were from the 1. And the Cardinals couldn’t push it in. No worries – the 49ers were flagged for four penalties, including three pass interference calls, all of which were automatic first downs. The Cards even tried trickeration, putting Drew Stanton in at QB and splitting Palmer out wide as a receiver, only to have Stanton hand the ball to Chris Johnson for a one-yard loss.
— The plays spotlighted the short-yardage issues the Cards had all game trying to run. Ironic that the score eventually came via the ground, with David Johnson punching one over. But the line of scrimmage was not won by the Cardinals’ offensive line most of the game.
— The Cards ended up with bigger problems running backs-wise than just missed third-and-1 tries. Chris Johnson exited with a left knee injury, and on the same drive, Andre Ellington left with a right foot injury. Their status is TBD. There is a reason the Cardinals built their running back depth, and rookie David Johnson isn’t a bad guy to turn to if the other two are sidelined.
But it’s a concern. Johnson tweeted out a handful of praying hands emojis after the game, although he said he doesn’t think it’s serious. What he is praying about is left to the imagination for now. They will get fully evaluated back in Arizona. Johnson has had issues with his knee all week.
— Tyrann Mathieu was all over the field Sunday with 13 tackles and he picked off Gabbert. He wasn’t satisfied – he was upset he allowed the touchdown pass the 49ers had – but he continues to have an all-pro season.
— The thin cornerback corps could get thinner. Bruce Arians said the Cards are hoping Jerraud Powers’ injury is a calf and not an Achilles issue, but either way, it puts Justin Bethel up again. Thank goodness for the Cards that Patrick Peterson looked fine on his injured ankle.
— It turned out not to matter, but that missed extra point by Chandler Catanzaro really, really could’ve mattered. Cat Man sees again how you can go from hero to near-goat in an awful hurry as a kicker.
— Larry Fitzgerald had 14 targets and 10 catches. He never could get loose – with 66 yards, he is still eight yards shy of 1,000 for the season – but he became the short-yardage answer on third downs when the Cards realized they couldn’t run it.
— On eight run plays in which the Cardinals needed three yards or less, the Cards lost yards on five of them. They were stopped for no gain on two. The other was David Johnson’s one-yard TD at the end of that nine-plays-inside-the-5.
— The 49ers are ticked off about the officials. The Cardinals weren’t thrilled either, but certainly not to the level of the game’s loser. It was not a great day for the officials in terms of making things clear, but their calls impacted the game. No doubt about that. I didn’t get a chance to study the Dial hit on Palmer on replay, but it’s not surprising a flag would be thrown. That’s the NFL we live in these days.
— Wide receiver Smokey Brown looked better than he has in weeks, running full speed down the field, his hamstring apparently not a problem. “I’m almost there,” he said. He had five catches for 99 yards.
— The Seahawks came from behind to win. The Vikings won. It was an important day for the Cards not to give up ground. Now a trip to St. Louis, where physical is going to be the word of the day. More NFC West fun.
Tags: 49ers, Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, J.J. Nelson, Jerraud Powers, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, officials, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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