DAN BICKLEY

Jonathan Gannon, Cardinals earning respect even in defeat

Oct 1, 2023, 5:26 PM | Updated: 8:39 pm

Jonathan Gannon runs off the field...

Head coach Jonathan Gannon of the Arizona Cardinals looks on prior to a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

For a guy with one victory as an NFL head coach, Jonathan Gannon is enjoying a lengthy honeymoon in Arizona. He deserves it.

After a 35-16 loss to the powerful 49ers in Santa Clara, Gannon’s unofficial record improved to 1-3-2. The last column is for moral victories. And it’s clear the Cardinals earned yet another chunk of credibility with their latest defeat.

They play hard. They stay aggressive. They don’t shrivel in the face of extreme physicality.

Their issue on Sunday wasn’t preparation or game planning. The problem was talent, and the 49ers are loaded.

The 49ers have a revolutionary offensive system armed with dazzling skill players, including the best wide receiver playing running back (Christian McCaffrey); the best running back playing wide receiver (Deebo Samuel); a quarterback unbeaten in the regular season as a starter (Brock Purdy); and another rising star at wideout (Brandon Aiyuk). Most of the time, they made it look easy.

The Cardinals defense has been stung by injuries and needed a slew of turnovers to compete on Sunday. That didn’t happen. Even at full strength, this roster isn’t built to contain Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

But from the 5:22 mark of the second quarter, the Cardinals’ offense held their own against the vaunted 49ers. They produced TD drives of 87 and 99 yards. And if two Cardinals players don’t drop touchdown passes on successive plays to end the game, the Cardinals might’ve played the 49ers to a statistical draw over the final 35 minutes.

At the very least, it confirmed Drew Petzing’s ability as an adaptive play-caller. It was another showcase for quarterback Josh Dobbs, who has stared down two of the NFL’s best defenses in successive weeks without ever losing his cool. It featured a breakout performance from wide receiver Michael Wilson, and how nice to actually have multiple rookies making positive contributions in their debut seasons?

That didn’t happen a lot with the previous regime.

And in the end, it was another win without winning for Arizona’s polarizing head coach. There are no histrionics or moments when he spins out of control on the sideline. He remains unapologetically aggressive, including a couple of gutsy fourth-down decisions that worked against the 49ers. And with each competent and combative performance, the Cardinals are inspiring hope and a sense of pride.

The bad news: the 49ers are a budding dynasty with a second-year quarterback earning $900,000 a year. They will be a problem for the next decade. But near the end of Sunday’s game, a sideline reporter was seen chatting with 49ers General Manager John Lynch. She then relayed the conversation was about these new Cardinals, and how impressed Lynch was with their coaching and their heart.

That’s hard-earned respect on a day when the Cardinals took another loss and another step forward.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7

Dan Bickley

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Jonathan Gannon, Cardinals earning respect even in defeat