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Arizona Cardinals Rally Behind John Skelton, Larry Fitzgerald, Defense For 21-19 Win Over San Francisco 49ers

After Kevin Kolb left the game with a head injury after their first offensive series, John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals defense upset the San Francisco 49ers 21-19. It was their fifth win in their last six games and kept their playoff hopes alive. 

Kolb was kneed in the back of the helmet by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks on a play in which he was blindsided as he was trying to make a throw. He fumbled on the play, but the Cardinals recovered, and Kolb left the game, never to return.

The first half was, except for one offensive play, complete domination by the 49ers. The Cardinals only had the ball on offense for just over seven minutes of the possible 30. It seemed that the entire half was played on the Cardinals side of the field. Two first quarter field goals gave the Niners a 6-0 lead. 

The Cardinals did get one huge jolt of momentum in the second quarter. After a third down reception by Kyle Williams that was short of a first down, San Francisco lined up for a 50-yard field goal. They ran a fake and completed a pass that would have been for a first down, but the play was called dead because Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt had thrown his challenge flag to contest the catch. Because of an equipment malfunction, there was no replay available, so they did not get charged a time out and retain their challenge. The call would have been upheld, but it eliminated the fake play.

On the ensuing field goal attempt, David Akers missed wide right, so they gave the ball back to Arizona.

On the very next play, John Skelton hit Early Doucet in stride for a 60-yard touchdown that gave the Cards a 7-6 lead.

Two more field goals by Akers in the second quarter had the 49ers leading 12-7 at the half. 

It is notable, though, that one of the biggest plays of the game was a special teams tackle by Rashad Johnson in the first quarter. Ted Ginn returned a punt and got past the first wave of coverage and looked like he was going to score. Long snapper Mike Leach closed the running lane and forced Ginn back toward the middle of the field, where Johnson made the stop inside the five-yard line. The defense held them to a field goal. 

The feeling was that falling behind 10-0 would have been insurmountable.

The second half was a completely different story. 

It didn't start that way, though. 

San Francisco scored on a 37-yard Frank Gore touchdown run on their first play in the second half to make the score 19-7. The Niners would not score again. 

The next possession for the Cardinals began the turnaround. They went six plays and 80 yards to score a touchdown to pull within 19-14. It was a bad pass from Skelton that looked like was going to be intercepted by San Francisco's Dashon Goldson, but Larry Fitzgerald jumped in front of him, took the ball away and ran after the catch for a 46 yard score. 

Arizona forced the 49ers to punt after three plays on the next series, and Arizona moved the ball enough to flip field position, as a punt had San Fran starting at their own 10. They would have another three-and-out.

The next possession could have been disastrous. Skelton threw an interception, but the Arizona defense forced another punt. 

Skelton and the Cardinals offense went 78 yards on six plays in the fourth quarter and scored on a three-yard reception by Andre Roberts. That gave the Cardinals their final lead at 21-19. 

From there, the defense shut down the Niners. San Francisco did not get another first down the rest of the way. They had two more three-and-outs and turned the ball over on downs with the final drive.

Skelton finished the game 19/28 for 282 yards, three TDs and two picks. Larry Fitzgerald led the team in receptions and yards. He had seven catches for 149 yards and a score, and he surpassed 1000 yards on the season. It is the fourth straight year he has done so and the fifth time in his career.

Running the ball was difficult. Beanie Wells rushed 15 times for only 27 yards. 

The defense kept Frank Gore in check. He ran for only 72 yards, but 37 of those came on his scoring run. Alex Smith threw for only 175 yards and Arizona sacked him five times. 

Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson had great games, as they made plays all over the field. 

The Cardinals are now 6-7 on the season and, with three winnable games left on the schedule, have fans believing that the playoffs are really a possibility. 

Head on over to Revenge of the Birds to get more Cardinals coverage.