Sometimes playoff berths aren’t won in December. Sometimes they are won in early October when a team is forced to start their backup quarterback on the road in a short week.
Time will tell if this 2-3 Arizona Cardinals team makes a run following Thursday night’s 33-21 victory over the 49ers jerseys. We just know they desperately needed this one and they got it. Here’s what we learned:
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David Johnson was the defining player on an otherwise ugly night of football. Arizona’s 12-play, 76-yard march that took up half the fourth quarter told the story. Johnson ripped off 62 yards on the drive, showing off his entire arsenal. He can run a wheel route as a receiver for 21 yards or run to the outside for 18 yards past defenders who can’t quite believe his deceptive speed. He can run over defenders at the goal line or patiently wait wholesale NFL jerseys, almost stopping, before he explodes in the open field. Johnson was the entire Cardinals offense Thursday night, finishing with 185 yards from scrimmage. The rest of the team had only 111 more.
The 49ers crowd chanted “We want Kap, We want Kap!” throughout the night and it was hard to blame them. Blaine Gabbert missed wide open receivers often and rarely looked comfortable in the pocket, even when he was protected well. He finished with 164 yards on 30 attempts, with plenty of that coming in garbage time. It’s a bad sign when Gabbert’s running ability (70 yards on 10 attempts) was the best part of the 49ers’ offense. Kelly told reporters after the game that he didn’t consider benching Gabbert during the game, but said that he and his coaching staff are “going to go and look at everything” involving their quarterback situation before next week’s contest versus the Bills.
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Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. The Cardinals and 49ers combined for 12 punts in the first half and Arizona was headed for a 7-0 deficit at halftime before a tipped-pass interception turned the game around. Arizona scored a play later and then got another short field when the 49ers fumbled the kickoff to open the second half. The Cardinals capitalized only after a roughing the kicker penalty gave the team second life with a first-and-goal. The Cardinals’ first two touchdown drives totaled 35 yards, which is just what this Cardinals team needed after a nervy start by quarterback Drew Stanton.
If this is Larry Fitzgerald’s final season, he’s showing every facet of his greatness on a weekly basis. Fitzgerald jersey had more than half of Arizona’s receptions (6) and yards (81) and both of the team’s touchdown catches. On both scores, Fitz showed veteran savvy by separating from defenders with his subtle strength. His routes turned around faster 49ers cornerbacks all night. Oh, and he delivered a beautiful block on one of Johnson’s touchdown runs cheap Arizona Cardinals jerseys. On a night when Stanton couldn’t shoot straight, Fitzgerald was a port in the storm.
Stanton’s accuracy was all over the place. Coach Bruce Arians has to wonder if he’s got a backup equipped to win games against teams that are better than San Francisco (the 49ers would get our vote as the least talented team in football). Facing one of the lowest-ranked defenses, Stanton finished 11 of 28 for 128 yards and two scores. Stanton finished with a 4.4 yards-per-attempt average. That’s lower than David Johnson’s 5.6 yards-per-carry average.
The highlight for Stanton was he didn’t turn the ball over and he hit his marks in the red zone.
Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden is your new NFL sack leader, at least until this weekend. The underrated player had two sacks, three QB hits and 10 tackles. He and Chandler Jones are playing well together as a tandem.
Tyrann Mathieu made his much-talked about move to the slot Thursday night and it didn’t go all that well. The Niners’ No. 1 receiver, Jeremy Kerley, finished with 102 yards and a touchdown — most of the yards coming with Mathieu in coverage. Still, Honey Badger’s energy was obvious to see with him mic’d up all night. My favorite moment was hearing him yell “THAT’S DAVID JOHNSON! THAT’S DAVID JOHNSON!” over and over again to no one in particular during the fourth quarter.
We know the feeling, Honey Badger. We know the feeling.
After a one-week hiatus, Carson Palmer is returning to the practice field.
The Cardinals have cleared their starting quarterback to practice after he spent a week in concussion protocol.
Palmer didn’t even travel to Arizona’s win over the 49ers on Thursday night, but is on track to start against the Jets at home on Monday night.
Fully healthy for the most part, Palmer and the Cardinals offense have a great opportunity to get back on track against a struggling Jets secondary and to string together their first two-game winning streak of an underwhelming 2016 season.
The team also announced Tuesday that linebacker Kevin Minter was cleared to return from concussion protocol.