In the Arizona Cardinals' 33-21 victory Thursday night in San Francisco, head coach Bruce Arians' squad did more than just win a football game.
The Cardinals overcame adversity for the first time this season, and even though it happened against a team likely headed for the NFC West cellar, it still happened.
An Arizona defense that had played up-and-down at times forced three turnovers that led to points, while an offense playing without starting quarterback Carson Palmer took advantage of its opponents' mistakes.
"Really, really pleased with the defense, especially the defense up front," Arians said. "Buck (Deone Bucannon) had a hell of a game, the defensive line did such a great job of keeping him clean, he could make all of those plays, he and Kevin (Minter). I thought the defensive line played their best ball game."
Golden had 10 tackles and was a dominant force against the run, while Campbell faced more one-on-one opportunities than he has in previous seasons because teams are beginning to respect outside linebacker Chandler Jones' presence on the edge.
"He (Golden) was pretty solid last year when he got his reps," Arians said. "It was learning the defense, learning the whole being a pro, I thought he'd have a big year no matter who we got. But I think the guy who is benefitting the most (from Jones) is Calais."
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, it was Jones and Campbell who combined on a game-changing play that gave immediate life to a Cardinals' team en route to another lackluster performance.
Deep in 49ers' territory, Jones batted a Blaine Gabbert pass in the air and Campbell snagged it for the Cardinals' first turnover. On the very next play from scrimmage, backup quarterback Drew Stanton found wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard touchdown to tie the game.
"Calais obviously had the big numbers, Chandler gets the bat and he gets the pick which I thought was a really big turning point for us on the sidelines," Arians said. "Drew hits Larry, if we don't drop five third down balls, Drew is going to have a game."
Stanton finished an eye-opening 11-for-28 through the air, completing fewer than 40 percent of his passes, but Arians claimed he would have had a much better stat line if not for obvious drops from Cardinals' receivers. While Stanton hardly led the Cardinals on any meaningful sustained drives, he did help the team earn 17 points off three turnovers deep in 49ers' territory that proved to be the difference in the game.
"Really pleased with the way Drew handled the ballgame for us, getting the turnovers, not turning the ball over, running the football, those were all the things we talked about," Arians said. "Coming out of halftime, Mo makes a big played to start the second half, I thought our special teams might have had the best game we've had in four, five years."
The Arizona Cardinals' offensive performance was made slightly more impressive Thursday by the fact Arizona played much of the second half without its starting offensive guards. Both left guard Mike Iupati and right guard Evan Mathis went down with ankle injuries during the contest, forcing reserve tackle John Wetzel to play left guard and reserve guard Earl Watford to fill in at right guard.
"Obviously did a good job running the football, I thought Earl and John Wetzel, especially John Wetzel stepped in, John hadn't played any guard since training camp and John stepped in and played really well," Arians said.
Since the last time Arians has spoke publicly, Mathis has been placed on injured reserve while reports about Iupati's injury have surfaced that suggest he'll miss two-to-four weeks. Those injuries severely limit the Cardinals' depth on the offensive line, but on Thursday, the team proved for the first time this season it could overcome adversity.
Now, the Cardinals will need to regroup, and prove they can do it again.null