The San Francisco 49ers caught the Arizona Cardinals off guard at the start of their matchup in Glendale, Ariz., Sunday.
San Francisco — long known for its power run game with running back Frank Gore — came out running end-arounds with receivers and throwing quick passes, an attempt to loosen up the Cardinals’ No. 1-ranked rush defense.
While the 49ers plan didn’t show any benefits for the run game — San Francisco running backs averaged 1.23 yards per carry — it did have an immediate impact. The 49ers jumped out to a 17-0 lead and made one of the NFL’s best units look bad for the opening 15 minutes, before ultimately kicking two fourth-quarter field goals en route to a 23-20 last-second win.
“They showed us respect for our run defense,” Cardinals nose tackle Dan Williams said. “They had to use some gimmicks to gain yards. We started slow. We can’t do that.
“Your mindset is just, as a team, we left everything on the field. We made a lot of mistakes early. They made big plays when they had to. In the end, it came back and bit us. We gave them a lot. We dug ourselves in that hole early.”
The Cardinals eventually climbed out of that hole, tying the game at 17 and again at 20. But after tying the game with 29 seconds left, LaMichael James ripped off a long kickoff return before Quinton Patton’s acrobatic catch set up kicker Phil Dawson’s game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired.
Williams said the Cardinals “didn’t change anything scheme-wise” to slow down the 49ers offense, which didn’t score in the second or third quarters. Instead, Williams said the defense settled down and trusted that it could make the plays necessary to stay in the game.
“They had a nice game plan,” said Williams, who recorded his first career sack in the game. “We figured it out but in the end, they made more plays than we did.”