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Big Red Recap: Cardinals defense, run game success lead to win over 49ers

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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It doesn’t ease the season’s poor start, but maybe, just maybe the Arizona Cardinals are on the verge of climbing out of the hole they dug for themselves.

And if so, then they can point to this win, a 33-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that kicked off Week 5 on Thursday Night Football.

And they did it with their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, back home in the Valley.

Drew Stanton passed for two touchdowns, both to Larry Fitzgerald, and David Johnson rushed for two scores to help the Cardinals snap a two-game losing streak.

The Cardinals have never lost three straight under head coach Bruce Arians.

Stanton completed 11-of-28 attempts for 124 yards and Fitzgerald caught six balls for 81 yards. But no one had a better performance than Johnson, who totaled 185 yards from scrimmage.

Breaking it down, Johnson had 157 rushing yards and 28 receiving yards.

Defensively, the Cardinals sacked Blaine Gabbert seven times.

The Cardinals have won three in a row over their NFC West rival.

THE GOOD

In the history of the National Football League, there have been just five streaks longer than Fitzgerald’s current one of 184 consecutive games with at least one reception. He reached No. 184 with a five-yard catch on 2nd-and-7 on the Cardinals’ third possession of the first quarter. By the way, that was Stanton’s first completion after he misfired on his first four throws of the game.

Entering the game, Stanton had never thrown a touchdown to Fitzgerald. That changed late in the second quarter, and now Stanton is the 13th different Cardinals quarterback with a touchdown pass to Fitzgerald, who caught a 21-yard ball on the very first play after Calais Campbell put the ball on the San Francisco 21-yard line with an interception. The score tied the game at 7.

Have a half, Markus Golden. He had a half-sack in the first quarter (shared with Alex Okafor) and added a full sack in the second quarter, giving him 1.5 sacks for the game and 5.5 sacks for the season. That surpasses his rookie total of four in 15 games. Golden now has a sack in five straight games. Only Curtis Greer’s seven-game streak in 1984-85 is longer in franchise history.

No player in the National Football League has more touchdown receptions against the Niners than Fitzgerald. Give him 16 after his third-quarter score, which put the Cardinals ahead, 21-7, at the 7:35 mark. Fitzgerald caught a 29-yard pass to complete a six-play, 71-yard drive in 3:19. For Fitzgerald, it marked his 18th multi-touchdown reception game of his 13-year career.

In Cardinals history, only Ottis Anderson (19) has more touchdowns through his first two seasons than Johnson. But Johnson is closing in fast. He recorded his 17th in the third quarter, a four-yard run that handed the Cardinals their first lead, 14-7, at the 12:45 mark. Later in the fourth quarter, he scored his 18th, a two-yard run that made it 31-14 Cardinals at the 4:44 mark.

THE BAD

And the drought continues. The Cardinals have gone five straight games—a total of 13 possessions—without a first-quarter point, the only team in the league with that dubious distinction. And this despite the Cardinals outgaining the Niners, 81-32, on Thursday. By the way, of the 81 yards, Johnson accounted for 58 on nine carries.

Two of the Niners’ three first-half, third-down conversions came on their only scoring drive of the half. It was their second possession of the second quarter, which ended with Gabbert’s nine-yard throw to Jeremy Kerley on 3rd-and-5 to put the Niners ahead, 7-0 at the 4:12 mark. On the drive, Kerley had four catches for 63 yards.

There is no running back better at finding the end zone than Carlos Hyde, at least thus far. His third-quarter, one-yard run was his sixth score of the season, which is tops in the NFC. It was an 11-play, 82-yard drive in 5:41 to make it 21-14 Cardinals at the 1:54 mark. The Niners converted one third down but recorded five first downs.

STAT OF THE GAME

17: The Cardinals scored 17 points off of three takeaways. They won the turnover battle (+3) after losing that statistical category in each of the past two weeks

HE SAID IT

“Everybody got a part of (the win), and the defense played outstanding,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a win we needed to have.”

NOTED

– Cornerback Marcus Cooper now has as many interceptions in his last four games (three) as he had in his entire 40-game NFL career prior.

– Starting left guard Mike Iupati exited the game early in the third quarter with an apparent left ankle injury. He was replaced by John Wetzel.

– Starting right guard Evan Mathis exited the game late in the second quarter with an apparent ankle injury and was replaced by Earl Watford.

– Elevated from the practice squad to the active roster only hours before kickoff, undrafted rookie Hakeem Valles started the game at tight end.

– The Cardinals have recorded back-to-back wins in San Francisco for the first time since 2005-06, and they improved to 2-1 at Levi’s Stadium.

– The Cardinals improved to 8-3 in primetime games under Arians, while also running their winning streak on Thursday nights to three in a row.

– With the victory, Arians moved into fourth place—passing Jimmy Conzelman and Charley Winner—on the franchise all-time wins list with 36.

– Among the Cardinals’ inactives were a trio of defensive linemen: Josh Mauro, Robert Nkemdiche and Olsen Pierre. Mauro had a chest injury.

– This was the first of three consecutive primetime matchups. The Cardinals have played consecutive primetime games but never three straight.

UP NEXT

It’s an extended break for the Cardinals, who now won’t hit the field for a game until Monday, Oct. 17, when they host the New York Jets in a primetime affair featuring their former defensive coordinator. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:25 p.m. MST with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Jets, coached by Todd Bowles, who spent two seasons leading the Cardinals’ defense in 2013 and 2014, have never played at University of Phoenix Stadium. In fact, they have not visited the Valley since 2004.

This will only be the ninth meeting between the two teams.

The Jets have won the past six matchups, including the most recent get-together in 2012 in New York, 7-6.

Overall, the Jets lead the all-time series 6-2, dating back to 1971.

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