Clark Haggans and the Cardinals' defense stops Michael Robinson short of the goal-line Monday night to hang on to a 29-24 win over the 49ers.
Bryan Robinson walked off the University of Phoenix Stadium field Monday night, some 64,000 fans still cheering the Cardinals' goal-line stand on the final play of the game, and the Cards' defensive tackle just shook his head.
One yard separated the Cards from a needed win against a crushing loss. And the Cards' defense had preserved that lone yard.
"The history of this team, I'm sure in the past we would have lost a game like that," Robinson said a short time later in the locker room, after the Cards escaped with a 29-24 win over San Francisco. "When you can pull something like that through, it shows you have a good football team.
"But for us to come out with that win, it's amazing. Just amazing."
ESPN had to be happy with the exciting finish, which the Cardinals have now delivered to "Monday Night Football" three years in a row. In 2006 there was the infamous implosion against the Bears. In 2007, it was the late game-winning touchdown allowed to the 49ers.
This time, the Cards (6-3) finished the right way.
With Arizona holding on to its five-point lead – thanks to a failed two-point conversion – the 49ers (2-7) ran three straight passes from quarterback Shaun Hill to wideout Jason Hill to go from the Cardinal 42 to the Cardinal 1 with 20 seconds left.
Then craziness ensued.
"I'm still trying to figure that out," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Running back Frank Gore tried to bounce outside on a run, fell down, and was touched by linebacker Chike Okeafor as he reached over the goal line. Clock running -- the 49ers had no timeouts left – Shaun Hill tried to line up for a play.
A penalty was called, ostensibly on the 49ers, which would have resulted in a 10-second runoff and thus ended the game. But the officials ruled that a review of Gore's play came first, saving the 49ers.
The review not only held that Gore was down, but that the ball was back at the 2. With four seconds left and the clock set to run as soon as the referee started the play, the 49ers tried to sneak a quick fullback handoff inside to Michael Robinson.
Robinson got the ball and never came close to the goal line. Linebacker Clark Haggans was the man to stone Robinson in the gap, but in the locker room, no one was getting specific.
"Everybody was on the dude," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "That was like a jailbreak or something."
Said Haggans, "A standing ovation goes to our front because they got some push and their offensive line and made their running back chop his feet and he couldn't get up in there."
Hill said he expected the play to work. Interim 49ers coach Mike Singletary did his best not to revisit the fiery postgame rant he delivered after his first game.
"Very frustrating … it's very difficult to put into words everything I feel," Singletary said. "I'm being very, very calm, OK? To say the least."
Calm was not happening for the Cardinals. The ending left Cardinals players and coaches either grinning and screaming in joy or shaking their heads in Robinson-like amazement.
"Man, it's fun to pull these out," Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said.
The difficult game "is teaching us lessons," Smith said. "The Jets game taught us a lesson. The Washington game taught us a lesson. Each time we have a trial it teaches us for the next game."
There was a lot to learn from Monday night.
Trailing from the moment 49ers return man Allen Rossum went 104 yards untouched for a touchdown on the game's opening kickoff, the Cardinals didn't take a lead until just over four minutes remained.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby took an interception back to the San Francisco 5-yard line, and Warner hit Anquan Boldin for a four-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass. It was only the Cards' third touchdown in six red-zone trips, something Whisenhunt noted as an area that needed to be better.
The Cardinals also had some ill-timed penalties out of their 10 flags, including an offside on safety Adrian Wilson that wiped out yet another interception return for a touchdown by safety Antrel Rolle.
But Wilson redeemed himself, making an interception with just over two minutes left that should have sealed the win. But the Cards couldn't get a first down, losing four yards on a Tim Hightower third-and-1 run at their own 19. Dirk Johnson's punt netted just 27 yards, setting up the 49ers' last drive.
"The thought process was to win," Wilson said. "We made a few bad plays down the stretch coverage-wise that let them get even deeper. But the clock was definitely on our side."
Warner had another stellar game – 32-of-43, 328 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers – and Boldin not only scored twice on seven receptions but also ran three times for 19 yards. It was the only positive for a running game that produced just 26 yards on 15 carries by Hightower and Edgerrin James.
Gore had 99 yards on 23 carries, and Wilson said he told Gore afterward that Gore should have demanded the final carry instead of it going to Robinson.
The Cardinals might have found a way to stop the play anyway.
"Gave all the fans what they wanted to see on 'Monday Night Football,' " Haggans said. "You want all the excitement, well, there it is."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 11/10/08.