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The Cards were hanging onto playoff hopes by one tiny frayed thread. With the 34 - 24 win over the Falcones, SF clinched a playoff spot and reduced Arizona playoff hopes to the remote possibility that New Orleans would somehow lose to Tampa Bay at home. There was some possibility that we might enjoy a slight emotional edge of a Niner letdown now that the were "in" while, by contrast, guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington figured to show up with chips on their shoulders from being snubbed as Pro Bowl starters.
An abnormally large percentage of pundits were picking the Cards to beat the Niners, but the odds that we'd both beat SF while TB beat NO at home remained pretty remote.
Cards Done In by 40-Yard FG With 0:02 Left.
The Bottom Line:
Consistency isn't always a good thing. Carson Palmer and the Cardinal offense turned over the ball early and (once again!!!) dug the Cards a 17 - 0 first-quarter hole. But - led by their stingy defense - the Cardinals were able to pull even with a little over 7:00 to play in the 4Q and actually had a chance to win it, except for Jay Feely's 2nd missed-FG of the afternoon. The score eventually reached 20 - 20 with roughly 0:23 to play, and SF moved into FG position and was able - with 0:02 on the clock - to boot a 40-yard Dawson FG. Final Score: 23 - 20. (As it turned out, a Cardinal win wouldn't have put us in the playoffs anyway - NO easily beat TB).
The three take-aways from this game have to be (1) the early hole we dug for ourselves, (2) the way we bounced back and (3) sweet revenge on the part of former Cardinal wide receiver Anquan Boldin (No doubt fans will be debating all off-season the why's and wherefores of how we let him get away in the first place).
- TB on the KO. Cards held to 3 & out. Runs by Boldin (+11) and Patton (+26) set up a 27-yard Dawson FG. Niners 3 - Cards 0.
Arenas returned the KO to the Cardinal 12. Two plays later, Palmer threw his obligatory early interception. Niners took over on the Cardinal 22. A 21-yard completion to Boldin set up a 4-yard TD pass - Kaepernick-to-Boldin. Niners 10 - Cards 0.
Arenas returned the KO to the Cardinal 15. Palmer was able to lead the Cards on a 1-yard drive that reached the Niner 19-yard line, but they had to settle for a 37-yard Feely FG which turned out to be wide right.Key plays were a 28-yard run up the middle by Mendenhall and an 18-yard completion to Dray. Niners took over on their own 28. A 63-yard completion to Boldin set up a 3-yard TD pass - Kaepernick to Vernon Davis. Niners 17 - Cards 0.
Arenas returned the KO to the Cardinal 25. Quarter ended with the Cards 3rd & 6 at their own 29. First Quarter Score: Niners 17 - Cards 0.
James returned the Zastudil punt to his own 43. Cards finally held the Niners to 3 & out. The two teams exchanged another round of 3 & outs. Peterson fair caught the Niner punt at his own 12 (Anyone else notice that most of our possessions started out inside our 15 whereas the Niners typically started out near midfield)? A 49-yard completion to Fitz and an 11-yarder to Floyd set up a one-yard TD hookup: Palmer to Ballard. Niners 17 - Cardinals 7.
TB on the KO. A 12-play Niner drive met its Waterloo at the Cardinal 6, where Dawson's 24-yarder was wide left just before halftime. Halftime Score: Niners 17 - Cardinals 7.
- SF received and the KO was returned to the Niner 26. After a Kaepernick scramble for 14-yards, the Niners punted 4 downs later. Cards took over at their own 20, but on the 4th play from scrimmage, Mendenhall put the ball on the ground.
- Niners took over at the Cardinal 37, but the Cardinal defense stiffened and the Niners turned the ball over on downs (4th & 1) at the Cardinal 16.
- A 44-yard pass to Floyd moved the Cards into Niner territory but (undermined by a false start flag on Ballard on a 3rd & 1) , the Cards surrendered the ball on downs at the Niner 36.
- But the defense rose up again and - on a 3rd & 1 - stoned Dixon for minus-5 yards and forced a punt. Peterson returned the punt to our own 15, and Palmer moved the Cards to the Niner 42-yard line in 8 plays as the quarter ended. Third Quarter Score: Niners 17 - Cardinals 7.
On the 3rd play of the quarter, Feely was good from 49. (It's a one-TD game)!!! Niners 17 - Cardinals 10.
TB on the KO. After Kaepernick hit Vern Davis for 46-yards, the Card defense forced a punt 4 plays later. Punt was downed at the Cardinal 9 (Field position again)!!! Completions to Roberts (+25) and Housler (+30) set up a 43-yard Feely FG (attempt - which was wide right).
Niners took over at their own 33 (with 7:39 left) and Dan Williams' 13-yard sack of Kaepernick helped set up a 3 & out. Punt was out of bounds at the Cardinal 40 with 5:48 left. Palmer completed 3 straight passes and - after being sacked by Bowman - hit Roberts deep down the left sideline for a 34-yard TD. All tied up. Niners17 - Cardinals 17.
3:20 still left. James returned the KO to the SF 21. Completions to V Davis (+16) and Boldin (+17) set up a 56-yard Niner FG. Niners 20 - Cardinals 17.
1:45 still left to play. TB on the KO. A 23-yard completion to Fitz helped set up a 20-20 nail-biter. Niners 20 - Cards 20.
0:29 left to play. An apparent fumble on a KO return was correctly ruled "caused by the ground", and the Niners took over on their own 36 with just 0:25 to play. This time, we couldn't stop them - Kaepernick hit Boldin for 18-yards and then Quinton Patton for +29. With just 0:02 left to play, Dawson's 40-yard chip-shot was good. Game over. Final Score: Niners 32 - Cardinals 20.
Cards were minus-2 in turnovers. They had 2 giveaways (the pick thrown by Palmer and Mendy's fumble) The Niners didn't cough up the ball.
Palmer was 28 for 49 for 407 yards, 2 TD's and an interception.
22 Cardinal plays were running plays (49 were passes).
Fitz and Floyd led the team in receptions with 6 apiece. Fitz racked up 113 yards/Floyd 91. Housler gained 78 yards on 5 grabs. Roberts gained 74 yards on 3 catches.
Boldin beat up Card DB's (mainly Powers) with 9 catches for 149 yards. We held V Davis to 3 catches.
Mendenhall (47 yards) and Ellington (30 yards) split most of the carries.
We gave up just one sack.
We held Gore to 14 yards on 13 carries and SF (minus the 4 Kaepernick scrambles) to a total of 59 rushing yards.
Bell was the leading Cardinal tackler with 7 (a reflection, perhaps, of how SF controlled the matchups). Another safety (Rashad Johnson) was next up with 6 tackles followed by Powers (another DB), Dansby, Campbell and DWash with 5 apiece.
Our 4th Down Efficiency was 75% (3 of 4 attempts)
Campbell and Dan Williiams were credited with a sack apiece (Where was Abraham)?
Penalties were light - Cards 3 - Niners 4.
Third Down Efficiency (
We won Time of Possession: 32:20 to 27:40
The emergence of Floyd
Only one sack surrendered/our pass protection was relatively clean.
Grittiness and resiliance of the entire team - especially our defense
Consistency on defense - after 16 games, we can say with confidence that these guys will come to play each and geet the job done each and every week.
We've got a good thing going - I really hope we can hang onto all our defensive starters in the off season.
A prediction: Coach Arians and Steve Keim proved that, by being resourceful, there are many ways to skin a cat and, if they couldn't get the precise player they wanted or couldn't upgrade the roster at a specific position, they'd find a different way to get the job done. (Example: The OL. We lost our #1 draft pick (Cooper) and had to repace Levi Brown. So we put together a patchwork unit -Sowells started at LT, Colledge moved back to LG, Fanaika stepped in at RG and Winston became our starting RT. (Only Sendlein stayed put at center). But thru the combination of improvement by individual starters, better communication and blocking help from TE's, RB's and even occasional help from a Ta'amatu, a NT, BA and his coaching staff were at least able to knit together an adequate-enough aggregation of guys who could usually open up holes for our RB's and protect Carson Palmer. For this reason, I don't expect Steve K and Coach Arians to bypass better athletes in the draft or open market in order to fill specific roster holes (because, if the right guy isn't available, they'll find different ways of rushing the passer, covering elite receivers, providing deep vertical speed or protecting the QB).
The Dark Side
Palmer's inaccuracy and bad decision-making early in games.
Housler (though improving) drops too many catchable balls.
Two missed Feely FG's represented the margin of defeat.
As improved as Powers may be, we allowed Q to catch 9 passes for nearly 141 yards. Whatever the reasons, the truth is that we'll need to find a way to control Boldin or he will continue to give us matchup nightmares.
We lost. Even if we had won, NO knocked us out of the playoffs. At 10 & 6, we have nothing to be ashamed of. The question as we go into the off-season must be: "Where (& how much) do we need to improve to put us over the top in our division. (I don't think we have very far to go - and it may be more a matter of tweaking the roster and choosing from a range of options that would make aspects of our running, passing or special teams play a smidge better without necessarily having to pinpoint specific positions or players).