Fitting really that on the day the Arizona Cardinals inducted former safety Adrian Wilson into the Ring of Honor, the defense would take center stage, a spot Wilson enjoyed for so many years during his All-Pro career.
Behind four takeaways, including pick-6s by Justin Bethel and Tryann Mathieu, two sacks and a safety, the Cardinals blitzed the San Francisco 49ers, 47-7, before a soldout University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Cardinals (3-0) scored 24 points off turnovers.
Carson Palmer passed for 311 yards and two touchdowns in winning his NFL-best ninth straight start. He improved to 16-2 in his last 18 starts.
Palmer’s number-one target was once again Larry Fitzgerald, who finished with nine catches for 134 yards and two scores.
Fitzgerald was the Cardinals leading receiver for the third straight week.
The ground game excelled as well.
Chris Johnson topped 100 yards, ending with 110 on 22 carries including two touchdowns.
The Cardinals’ 3-0 start is their second in as many seasons.
The “Larry” chants began early as No. 11 was targeted three times on the opening drive, including the first two snaps of the game. Fitzgerald caught passes for 21 yards and 13 yards before the offense was forced to punt. Fitzgerald now has at least one reception in 166 consecutive regular season games (173 including playoffs), a franchise record and longest active streak in the league.
Quite the first quarter for Fitzgerald, who finished with five catches for 90 yards, a career-best first-quarter mark, surpassing his previous high of 75 yards. Three of those catches—23, 16 and 17 yards—came on the Cardinals second offensive possession, which ended with a Chris Johnson six-yard touchdown run, his first with Arizona, that made the score 21-0 with 14:56 to play in the first half.
On the Cardinals very next possession, Johnson added his second rushing touchdown, this time from a yard out on third down. Through three drives, Johnson had carried the ball 10 time for 63 yards with his second score giving the Cardinals a 28-0 lead with 7:49 to play in the first half. He finished with 110 yards, his seventh career 100-yard game. As a team, the Cardinals closed with 139 rushing yards.
No team has scored more defensive touchdowns than the Cardinals since 2013. They added their 11th and 12th in the first six minutes of the game. First, Bethel, playing his first defensive snap of the season, intercepted Kaepernick and returned it 21 yards for a score; and then Mathieu recorded his first career pick-6 with a 33 yard run back. Mathieu added a second interception in the second quarter.
On the first play of the second half, the Cardinals recorded their fourth takeaway of the game. It was Jerraud Powers with the interception of Kaepernick. Four plays later, Palmer found Fitzgerald in the end zone for a four-yard score, his 13th against the Niners, more than any other player against San Francisco. Fitzgerald also went over 100 yards receiving for a second straight game for the first time since 2011.
And because 13 is considered an unlucky number, Fitzgerald recorded his 14th career score against the Niners on an eight-yard catch to make it 47-7 with 5:15 to play in the fourth quarter. It was Fitzgerald’s second touchdown of the game and fifth of the season, more than any player in Cardinals history through the season’s first three games.
It’s not often heard, but referee Tony Corrente called out No. 68, left tackle Jared Veldheer, three times, all on the same drive in the first half, because of penalties. The first was a holding call, which negated a 44-yard catch by Michael Floyd; and then a pair of false start mistakes. The Cardinals were penalized four times in the first half.
A low punt plus good return equaled excellent starting field position for the Niners late in the second quarter. The punt by Drew Butler traveled 34 yards and lacked hangtime, allowing Jarryd Hayne to run 37 yards to the Cardinals 19. Three plays later, Kaepernick scored on a 12-yard rush, making it 28-7 Arizona with 2:03 to play in the first half.
Let the record show Palmer finally hit the ground via a sack with roughly five minutes to play in the third quarter. Arik Armstead came off the edge, beating right tackle Bobby Massie for the sack, the first one allowed by the Cardinals offensive line in the season’s first 10-and-a-half quarters.
STAT OF THE GAME
14: The number of points scored by the Cardinals defense
HE SAID IT
“If you relax, I’ll be looking for new people. Put your foot on their throat,” head coach Bruce Arians said at halftime according to Paul Calvisi on the Arizona Cardinals radio network.
Alex Okafor exited the game briefly after suffering a finger injury midway through the third quarter
Palmer’s 300-yard passing performance was his ninth in 25 games with the Cardinals
Palmer has thrown multiple touchdown passes in eight of his last nine starts and 16 of his last 20
For the first time in team history, the Cardinals have three pick-6s in the season’s first three games
For the first time since 1969, the Cardinals reached the 40-point mark in consecutive games
For the first time since 1923-24, the Cardinals have started 3-0 in back-to-back seasons
Among the Cardinals’ inactives included running back Andre Ellington and guard Mike Iupati
Once again, the Cardinals find themselves hosting a division opponent.
They welcome St. Louis on Sunday, Oct. 4. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The Cardinals have won three straight—two in a row at home—and 13 of the past 17 meetings.
In last year’s matchups, both Palmer and Drew Stanton suffered season-ending injuries; Palmer on Nov. 9, Stanton on Dec. 11.
Overall, the Cardinals are 36-35-2 all-time in a series that dates back to 1937.
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