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Big Red Recap: Cardinals survive a scare against San Francisco

Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy.

Winning in San Francisco has been downright challenging, to say the least for the Arizona Cardinals.

A seven-year drought — six straight losses — ended with 19-13 victory Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

The 19 points scored were a season-low in a Cardinals win.

Carson Palmer’s fourth-quarter, 8-yard touchdown run proved to be the difference, but not until the defense came up with one more stop was the victory secured for the Cardinals’ first on the road against the 49ers (3-8) since 2008.

On fourth-and-20 at the Arizona 30, Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson combined to tackle Anquan Boldin two yards shy of the first down.

One play earlier, Tony Jefferson sacked Blaine Gabbert for a 10-yard loss.

Mathieu finished as the team’s leading tackler with 13, including 11 solo stops. He added two pass defenses, one tackle for loss and an interception.

Palmer was 24-of-40 for 271 yards, helping the Cardinals win their season-high fifth in a row.

Gabbert, meanwhile, completed 25-of-36 for 318 yards and a touchdown. He was also picked off once and sacked twice.

With the win, the Cardinals (9-2) maintain their three-game lead atop the NFC West.

THE GOOD

– Larry Fitzgerald’s first catch of the game — on the Cardinals second offensive snap — extended his franchise record of consecutive games with at least one grab to 174, the longest active streak in the league. On that same five-yard play, Fitzgerald moved past Randy Moss (982) and into 12th place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list. Two catches later, Fitzgerald moved past Steve Largent (13,089) for 16th place on the all-time receiving yardage list.

– After two takeaways in the past two weeks — and losing the turnover battle in the process, despite winning both games — the Cardinals forced a pair of turnovers in the first quarter. First, Mike Leach recovered a Bruce Ellington muffed punt; and then on the very next Niners’ possession, Mathieu picked off Gabbert on a pass intended for Boldin. For Mathieu, it was his team-high tying fourth interception (Rashad Johnson also has four) of the season.

– Finally, a Cardinals touchdown, on their sixth possession. Facing first-and-goal for the fifth different time on the drive, the Cardinals scored one play later on a David Johnson one-yard run to give them a 13-3 lead at 9:58 of the third quarter. For Johnson, it was his eighth touchdown of the season (he has four rushing, three receiving and one kickoff return score) leaving him two shy of the club record shared by Ottis Anderson (1979) and Tim Hightower (2008).

THE BAD

– The NFL’s highest scoring team entering Week 12, the Cardinals were limited to just six points — on a pair of Chandler Catanzaro field goals (26 and 41 yards) — on five possessions in the first half, their lowest scoring output through the first two quarters all season. Their main issue came inside the red zone, where their two trips inside the 20-yard line stalled thanks to poor execution and penalties (false start, illegal touching and delay of game).

– Aided by a 48-yard catch by Blake Bell, Gabbert led the Niners on a six-play, 77-yard scoring drive capped by an 8-yard toss to Vance McDonald to make it a 13-10 game at 7:34 of the third quarter. Gabbert was 3-of-4 for 68 yards with each completion good for a first down on the possession. By the way, on the Bell play, Jerraud Powers hurt his right calf and had to be helped off the field and into the locker room. His return was called doubtful.

– In addition to Powers, the Cardinals lost running backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington to injury in the third quarter. Johnson hurt his left knee, while Ellington exited with a left foot issue. Both went into the locker room for further evaluation. Their absences left David Johnson and Stepfan Taylor as the only healthy running backs; though in an extreme emergency, offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley would be available as he has been as a fullback.

STAT OF THE GAME

7-for-14 vs. 0-for-9: The Cardinals converted 50 percent of their third downs while the Niners failed on all nine of their attempts

HE SAID IT

“We finally won in San Francisco, that’s the lesson,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s never easy. This was no trap game.”

NOTED

– For the fifth time in franchise history and first time in back-to-back seasons, the Cardinals open a campaign with at least nine wins in the first 11 games of a season.

– The Cardinals, for the fourth time in franchise history and first time since 1974-76, secure their third consecutive season with a winning record.

– For the eighth time in franchise history and first time since 2009, Arizona records at least five wins on the road.

– With Palmer split as a receiver, Drew Stanton played one third-quarter snap, handing the ball off to Chris Johnson.

– Signed only three days earlier, defensive tackle Red Bryant made his Cardinals debut in the second quarter.

– Among the Cardinals inactives were defensive tackles Frostee Rucker, Cory Redding and Ed Stinson; starting right guard Jonathan Cooper (ankle) missed his second straight game.

UP NEXT

It’s back on the road for the Cardinals.

They play their second consecutive NFC West opponent away from home with a visit to St. Louis on Sunday, Dec. 6. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Rams (4-7) handed the Cardinals their first loss of the season in Week 4, 24-22.

Nick Foles passed for three touchdowns, twice after takeaways as the Cardinals turned the ball over three times, leading to 17 St. Louis points.

The Cardinals, who had never trailed through the first three games, never led after David Johnson’s fumble on the opening kickoff was converted into a Foles-to-Tavon Austin score just 90 seconds into the action.

That first meeting also saw Todd Gurley rush for 106 of his 146 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 30-yard run to seal the victory, the Rams first in four previous tries against the Cardinals.

The Oct. 4 win evened the overall series at 36-36-2, which dates back to 1937.

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