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Rosen’s expletive-laced ‘tidbit,’ Leftwich’s debut help Cards beat 49ers

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen talks with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Josh Rosen’s first rally as an NFL quarterback came after the Arizona Cardinals rookie spoke some confident words to his teammates.

Having just scored a touchdown to make a 15-3 game a five-point deficit — and give a creaky offense a shot in the arm — Arizona took over with just more than two minutes to play against the San Francisco 49ers.

It was time for Rosen and Byron Leftwich, who made his debut as offensive coordinator in the Week 8 battle, to make up for a day’s worth of ugly football. That they did in an 18-15 victory at State Farm Stadium.

“I always try to give some sort of tidbit as I’m walking into the huddle,” Rosen said, later adding there was an expletive involved. “Sometimes try to make them laugh, sometimes motivate them a little bit. So I guess they needed a little something.”

It worked. Rosen led the Cardinals on a 73-yard drive in 1:42 to give the Cardinals the lead that would stick, and so it was asked what words from their rookie leader exactly fed the sudden outburst in an otherwise forgetful afternoon.

“Josh doesn’t use profanity man. He’s a classy guy,” said receiver Larry Fitzgerald. “If (he) would’ve went to USC where Carson (Palmer) went, Matt Leinart, he might’ve said something like that. He’s a clean-cut guy from UCLA.”

Unlike Fitzgerald and unlike Rosen, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries didn’t dodge the question.

“‘We’re about to win this (expletive) game.’ That’s what he said,” Humphries said in the locker room.

“I’m with it. I’d been thinking that so when I hear him say that and it’s echoing from my quarterback, I’m excited.”

The victory might get the Cardinals excited about their rookie offensive coordinator, too.

Leftwich left his mark on the game even before the Cardinals’ 15-point fourth quarter.

Though the playbook hadn’t changed from the one installed by Mike McCoy, who was fired as offensive coordinator nine days prior, the rhythm felt different for spurts.

“He’s a steadying force for us on offense,” Rosen said. “So it’s not going too great in the first half — he does a really good job of helping us sort of rally together and push forward.”

To protect Rosen and a so-far struggling offensive line, Leftwich went often to quick receiver screens to bend the defense horizontally. And yes, like former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who convinced Leftwich to join the coaching ranks two years ago, Arizona’s new OC spread running back David Johnson out like a receiver.

Johnson, who left the game and underwent concussion protocol in the fourth quarter, hit the 100-yard mark with 59 rushing yards and 41 receiving off four catches.

Arizona got the 49ers off kilter with bunched-up receivers distracting defenders from running back screens on the opposite side of the field.

“I think that’s a lot of credit to Byron,” Rosen said of Johnson’s production. “Like I said, he has very good timing with a lot of his play calls. He’s got a good feel for how to mess around with defensive linemen and make sure they aren’t pinning their ears back too much.”

Larry Fitzgerald also came to life for his best outing of the year, catching eight balls for 102 yards and a score, plus a two-point conversion.

Meanwhile, Rosen himself finished 23-of-40 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

His late heroics came through confidence and plays made by his receivers, but Wilks also credited Leftwich’s play-calling for keeping the offense steady despite the struggles that found Arizona trailing 5-3 after the first half and 15-3 early in the fourth quarter.

“Byron had us in a rhythm,” Wilks said. “As you can see, the operations were great from a standpoint of just getting a play in, being able to get to the line of scrimmage and IDing the defense and MIKE linebacker.”

That was the coordinator-to-quarterback clarity Wilks had been looking for in making the move to fire McCoy and promote Leftwich from quarterbacks coach.

“Was he consistent enough?” Wilks said of Rosen. “No. But again, we’re going to deal with that when you’re dealing with a rookie. I’m fine with Josh. I think he’s going to learn and grow from this.”

EXTRA POINTS

— Fitzgerald opened his media session expressing his condolences to Pittsburgh, which on Saturday saw a mass shooting at a synagogue claim the lives of 11 victims. “I spent two great years at the University of Pittsburgh and it breaks my heart that such a great city is going through such a tragic loss like that. I know we’re talking about football, but it’s something that was on my heart.”

— Wilks said Johnson was fine after missing the end of the game due to concussion protocols.

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