Fitzgerald Leads Cardinals 21-19 Comeback Win Over 49ers

The Arizona Cardinals come from behind to stun the San Francisco 49ers with back up QB John Skelton running the show. Incredible win for AZ to break a five-game losing streak to the Niners.

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NFL Monday Morning Recap: Here Come the Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals playoff chances are becoming real and a look at the narratives of Tim Tebow/Tony Romo

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Cardinals vs. 49ers, Recap: Whisenhunt Not Focused On Playoff Scenarios

Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt had no information Monday morning on the biggest injury question facing the team after Sunday's win over the San Francisco 49ers. He had not yet spoken to Kevin Kolb or the training staff and therefore had nothing to say about Kolb's status following a blow he took to the back of his head that knocked him out of the game.

Kolb "didn't feel right" after taking the knee to the back of his head and was evaluated by the team doctors who made the call to hold him out for the rest of the game. He will undergo the concussion protocols this week which includes a number of different steps. We should expect to know more on his status for the next game on Wednesday.

The challenge for this week will be not to "get caught up in the win" and remain focused heading into a game against a Cleveland Browns (4-9). The Cardinals should be favored in this game, at home, by at least four points.

Whisenhunt says the team isn't paying attention to playoff scenarios and "scoreboard watching".

 "None of it matters if we don't win this week and that's the approach we've taken the last six weeks and it's worked pretty good for five of them," he said.

John Skelton and the game plan 

The Cardinals were forced to adjust on the fly when Kolb was knocked out of the game on the first series. It helped that Skelton had started four other games which allowed the team to stick to the game plan and even create a few plays on the sideline based on what the Niners were doing.

Skelton handled it well, showed poise in the pocket, used his feet to make plays and completed some nice throws. The two interceptions need to be eliminated according to Whisenhunt. Bother were decision-making mistakes.

Whisenhunt provided an insight into the game plan:

"We had a number of different approaches we were going to try and we finally hit on one in the second half. We spread them out a little bit and went into some of our "sub" stuff which we thought was going to be good coming in. They tried to match us up with their base, with their regular personnel and that's when we hurt them with the shot to Early (Doucet) for the touchdown. That got them into matching with us and that gave us what we wanted as far as the plan goes and we were able to move it a little better in the second half."

Defense and a turning point

The Cardinals defense has played extremely well over the last six games. Here's a few notes assembled by the team PR staff:

Over the last six games, opposing offenses have 77 total drives. In those 77 drives, the Cardinals defense has allowed just six TDs. Below is a breakdown of the defensive performance over that time:

 Opponent's 77 offensive drives over the past six games

  • 47 drives totaled five plays or fewer
  • 45 drives covered 25 yards or fewer
  • 37 drives resulted in a punt-only Denver (42) forced more punts than the Cards in that span
  • 8 drives resulted in missed FGAs, including three FGAs that were blocked by Arizona
  • Of the six TDs allowed, three came on drives that began inside Arizona territory, including two drives that followed turnovers

One other thing that's stood out is getting five sacks from five different players in each of the last two games.

"Listen, I would rather have five guys have five sacks than have one guy have five sacks because it makes you much more difficult to defend when you do that," Whisenhunt said.

Asked about a turning point on defense during the season, Whisenhunt said the one moment that stood out was in the first St. Louis game (Nov 6) when the Cardinals got stops on third and fourth and 1 late in the game:

"I believe at that point, in a critical situation where really it was tough, that we had to do something, that our guys stood up. And I really believe that at that point, because you had a couple of different guys in that series make plays and they did it the right way, they used the proper technique, they communicated, they got lined up right, and I think guys really started to buy in at that point. I don't necessarily think you can say there is one point, but it sure appeared that way to me. We were getting better the whole time but that was a point where our guys really needed to step up and they did and I think that certainly helped."

Other notes and quotes:

  • "There's a great team chemistry right now with our guys. There's no offense vs. defense or anything like that...Guys are just playing football and they are expecting to be successful." - Whisenhunt
  • Whisenhunt given a game ball by Lyle Sendlein on behalf of the team in recognition of winning his 42nd game as Cardinals coach which tied for the lead for the Cardinals franchise.
  • Whisenhunt on making big plays on offense this year: "It means that we're close. We're close to being a better, efficient team on both sides of the ball. Make plays and win a lot of games."
  • Whisenhunt said he was running out of things to say about Larry Fitzgerald. The catches, the block during Doucet's TD catch and a touchdown-saving tackle on an interception all were huge.
  • Whiz stressed how unselfish Fitzgerald is, rooting for teammates when they do great things, and how hard he works in practice each week to keep trying to get better. Despite his unselfishness, Fitz also wants the ball and often will lobby for certain plays and point out times he is open and what's working during a game.
For more on the Cardinals, visit Revenge of the Birds blog.
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Cardinals Vs. 49ers Post Game Reaction: Belief Never Wavered For Arizona

The Arizona Cardinals have climbed out of the deep hole they dug to start the season and are on a legitimate roll. After winning their first game (barely), the team went on to lose five-straight and quickly found themselves all but written off by most observers.

They struggled in all facets of the game and couldn't close out opportunities both on the road and at home. Since then, they've won five of six including wins over quality teams in the Dallas Cowboy and San Francisco 49ers.

The Cardinals now find themselves at 6-7 and somehow, still in the hunt for a Wildcard playoff berth. That turnaround might comes as a surprise to some, but inside the locker room, the belief was always there.

"We knew the whole time we weren't a 1-6 football team. That's what our record was and what everyone perceived us as, but we know in the locker room that we were much better than what our record showed," star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said after the game.

This game was a microcosm for the Cardinals season. It was an improbable come from behind win with a back up quarterback who's struggled recently and turned the ball over three times against one of the best football teams in the league.

This win didn't just happen and it wasn't the result of a trick play, a bad call, or some other random act of sporting luck.

The Cardinals won this game in the second half when the offense dominated the time of position and field position battle. The Cardinals defense won this game in the first half when they held the 49ers to zero touchdowns despite four trips deep inside the scoring zone.

In other words, the Cardinals won this game because they always believed they would win this game and they never wavered.

Team leader Darnell Dockett described that belief: "There wasn't any bickering or yelling, we just said we were going to win the game in the fourth quarter...We knew it was going to come down to the fourth quarter. We did that. I'm proud of us. I'm proud of our team that stuck together and not complaining about anything."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt also remarked about the team's belief.

"We're resilient today and that's what it was all about. We fought field position but we didn't get down. We started the second half with a bug thud, but our guys, they believe in what we are doing and that's big. It was a team win for us," Whisenhunt said about Sunday's contest before later talking about the bigger picture of the season that's turned around.

"You guys stuck a fork in us quite awhile ago, you know, and I think our guys never let it get to them. How many times did we say during those first weeks that we're going to stay the course and it was going to turn for us. We believed it, we believed in what we're doing and we still do and we're just seeing the benefit of that."

Where does that belief come from? 

According to ILB Daryl Washington, "It comes from the leaders but also the whole team."

In training camp we heard this talk about what a great group of players this was and how good the chemistry would be. That was tested with a lot of adversity and this team passed.

Regardless of how the season ends, there's no way not to be optimistic about the future with a full offseason and the experience from this year with Ray Horton's defensive system.

The offense still lags behind and the unfortunate early head injury to Kevin Kolb robbed us of an important opportunity to see how he handled a test like this. The defense, however, is very much a bright spot for the first time in the Whisenhunt era. 

According to DE Calais Campbell (who had another big game), if it hadn't been for the lockout the Cardinals would be 11-1 right now. That might be a stretch, but there's little doubt that this team's early season challenges were not a matter of personnel or bad coaching.

As Whisenhunt said, the team stayed the course and the team is now seeing the rewards of that faith.

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Cardinals Vs. 49ers Score Update: San Francisco Up 6-0 Winning Field Position Battle; Kevin Kolb Knocked Out

The San Francisco 49ers are playing their game and as such, hold a 6-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals early in the second quarter. The Niners have dominated both time of possession field position and have also knocked Arizona's starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb, out of the game on a sack.

The Cardinals defense is playing well, again, but the 49ers held Arizona to zero first downs and have won the punting game. Twice Arizona was forced to kick from their end zone. On the first, SF started their drive at the Arizona 43 and were able to put three points on the board with 48-yard kick from David Akers. 

On the Cardinals second punt from deep in their end, 49ers Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ball 53 yards to put the visiting team on the door step of the end zone. The Cardinals defense held in the red zone and forced SF into another field goal.

The Cardinals suffered a significant blow in their first offensive possession with Kolb taking a knee to the back of the head. His return is questionable. Arizona also lost starting ILB Paris Lenon with a knee injury. He's also questionable to return.

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Cardinals Vs. 49ers Injury Report: Punters Are Football Players Too

The Arizona Cardinals continue to practice and prepare in advance of Sunday's game with the San Francisco 49ers. The game has been announced as a sellout, the 61st consecutive since opening University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006. With the sellout news, the game will be broadcast locally on KSAZ-TV (Fox) at 2:00 p.m.

The Cardinals continue to get healthy with TE Todd Heap feeling like he's turned the corner with his hamstring injury. He said that he might have pushed it too hard, too fast and set himself back in the healing process. 

"Anytime you have a hamstring it's going to be a day-to-day thing, but I do have a lot more confidence on it right then I did this time last week," Heap said.

Heap was listed as limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

In more surprising Cardinals injury news, punter Dave Zastudil has been limited with a bicep injury suffered in last Sunday's game while trying to make a tackle on Cowboys WR Dez Bryany according to beat writer Kent Somers. According to Somers, the Cardinals worked out two punters (Chris Bryan and Robert Malone) in case Zastudil can't go.

Zastudil is averaging a career-high 45.6 yards per punt which puts just outside the top-ten in the NFL.

After Beanie Wells did not participate on Wednesday, he was back Thursday. The Cardinals had no players listed as DNP.

Others limited on Thursday include: S Sean Considine (achilles), LB Joey Porter (knee), S Kerry Rhodes (foot), RB Chris Wells (knee, thumb, hamstring).

For the 49ers, the news continues to be about LB Patrick Willis who did not participate in practice and could potentially miss the rest of the season:

Patrick Willis Injury Update: Could 49ers LB Miss The Rest Of The Regular Season? - SB Nation Bay Area
If forced to guess, Chang said that a wide window would be three to six weeks in recovery time for Willis. However, he cautioned that hamstring injuries can be "frustrating" because of the propensity for re-injury. "The scar tissue is not as flexible and re-injury can occur," he said. Three weeks would mean Willis could return in time for the season finale on Christmas Eve in Seattle. A five-week recovery would mean Willis would be ready for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

Todd Heap knows all about how frustrating hamstring injuries can be.

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Cardinals Special Teams Blocking Kicks Without Touching The Ball

The Arizona Cardinals special teams have emerged as a real bright spot this season. Patrick Peterson has set an NFL record with four punt return touchdowns all going over 80 yards (and he's a rookie, and there's four games left) and the team leads the NFL with four blocked field goals this season. 

On punt returns, according to coach Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt, teams are now forced to kick away from Peterson which can improve field position as the punter doesn't get optimal distance on his kick. Peterson, in other words, is helping the team even when he's not touching the ball.

The same can be said for the Cardinals field goal defense. 

Not only do the Cardinals lead the NFL in blocked field goals, they also have recorded the more missed field goals against them (9) than any other team in the game.

According to two Cardinals players with direct knowledge of the situation, that's no accident.

"I feel like any time a kicker is getting ready to kick the ball they know we have the ability to block it, so it's in the back of their minds," the field goal blocking machine, Calais Campbell said, adding, "There's been a bunch of games where kickers have missed kicks and we just got good pressure and we didn't get a block. Even talking to (Cardinals kicker) Jay Feely, he'll tell you anytime you have a good rush team it's in the back of (the kicker's) mind."

OK, let's hear from Jay Feely and get the kicker's perspective. Will he stand up for his fellow kickers?

"You try not to think about it. I never think about the rush but I can tell you talking to (San Francisco 49ers kicker) David Akers at half time, he didn't know what to do because they had blocked two and he missed another one trying to hurry," Feely said.

"I know (St. Louis Rams kicker) Josh Brown missed his kick because he was trying to rush and trying to get the ball up quick. You could tell it was a change in his form trying to get it elevated quickly trying to get it over Calais (Campbell) and the rest of our rush. There's not question they're having an impact not just by blocking kicks but on what a kick's trying to do and not being able to be in their comfort zone and do what they normally would do."

There you have it. Two Cardinals defenders impacting the game even when they don't touch the ball. Not a bad bit of work.

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Cardinals Vs. 49s: San Francisco Opens As Favorites But Line Tight

The Arizona Cardinals (5-7) are not surprisingly, a home underdog in their Sunday game against the San Francisco 49ers (10-2). What's a bit more shocking is the opening line being set at just four points. It's a sign of respect for how much better the Cardinals are playing since they were ten-point underdogs to the Niners in Week 11 and got smoked 23-7.

49ers DE Justin Smith, on a conference call with the media expressed his respect for the work Arizona has made over recent weeks.

"We know it's going to be a hard game down there. They're coming off a big win, playing pretty good football," Smith said.

Smith's had a chance to watch some film on the Cardinals and declared the team much better with Kevin Kolb at the helm. He said the Arizona offense was playing faster and seemed to be running more plays then when they last played. 

The 49ers have won their NFC West but are still playing for seeding in the playoffs. Smith doesn't expect any kind of let down on Sunday.

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