Quarterback Drew Stanton (left) congratulates wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald after Fitzgerald's 21-yard score during the Cardinals' 33-21 win Thursday night in San Francisco.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Drew Stanton wore a pair of comfy slippers, part of his casual clothes all the Cardinals got to wear on the flight home thanks to their victory at Levi's Stadium Thursday night.
The quarterback also wore a smile after the 33-21 win over the 49ers, a game that snapped the Cards' two-game losing streak and breathed life back into what is still a young season.
"This was a huge team win," Stanton said. "It's what we needed. That was my mindset the whole week."
The formula could have been predicted beforehand, with starting quarterback Carson Palmer out with a
concussion and Stanton in the lineup. The Cardinals (2-3) needed to run the ball, which they did well against the NFL's worst rush defense. David Johnson finished with 157 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns.
They also needed to take care of the ball, which they had not in the previous two games (a whopping 10 turnovers.) The Cards not only didn't turn it over, but they forced three 49ers errors, all deep in San Francisco territory and all leading to points.
Maybe what wasn't predicted was excellent special teams play, which created one of the turnovers – a forced fumble and recovery by tight end Ifeanyi Momah. They got giant games from defensive tackle Calais Campbell (two sacks, a safety, an interception) and linebacker Markus Golden (two sacks).
And they got what they needed from Stanton.
He was only 11-for-28 for 124 yards, but he threw two touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald, and coach Bruce Arians said he was "pleased" with the effort.
"You have to find that rhythm," Stanton said. "I haven't been out there for a while in a game of this magnitude. … In my mind seeing the game unfold, it just took a little bit of time because I didn't have the full week of practice."
Thanks to the defense and Campbell, things changed quickly in a first half that had become a punt-fest.
The 49ers (1-4) took a 7-0 lead and got the ball back late in the second quarter. But linebacker Chandler Jones tipped a Blaine Gabbert pass that was intercepted by Campbell and gave the ball to the Cardinals at the San Francisco 21-yard line.
On the next play, Fitzgerald corkscrewed cornerback Trumaine Brock on a move and got wide open for a 21-yard touchdown to get to halftime tied. On the kickoff to open the second half, Momah stripped return man Chris Davis and jumped on the ball at the 49ers 14.
"(The interception) gave us good field position and Fitz made an awesome play," Campbell said.
The Cardinals were originally forced to kick a field goal on fourth-and-4, but the 49ers ran into kicker Chandler Catanzaro to allow a first down. The Cardinals turned that into a four-yard Johnson touchdown run.
The Cardinals turned Johnson loose from there and also their defense, which piled up seven sacks – more than the 49ers had allowed in their previous four games combined.
Golden was a monster with 10 tackles and two tackles for loss in addition to his sacks, while moneybacker Deone Bucannon had 14 total tackes and linebacker Kevin Minter also had 1½ sacks.
The safety came late when nose tackle Corey Peters collapsed the pocket and Campbell found Gabbert again.
"I still missed some opportunities this game," Campbell said. "I'm hurting about those plays, but we got a win and it felt good to make a play or two to help the team win."
The Cardinals also turned a Marcus Cooper interception into a field goal as they reversed their turnover troubles of the past two games.
"We damn sure didn't score in the first quarter again, so you can write about that," Arians said. "Other than that, I'm pretty damn happy."
Arians said Stanton's slow start came in part because he knows the offense so well he was rushing the plays. Stanton never really found a connection with anyone but Fitzgerald – six catches for 81 yards – but in the end it was easily offset by Johnson's huge performance.
"What we were able to do on the ground was phenomenal," Stanton said, who called having Johnson and Fitzgerald – who combined for 90 percent of the Cardinals' total yards -- a "luxury."
Arians gave the players off until Wednesday, a benefit of not playing again a week from Monday. At least the time off will be more enjoyable.
Arians wouldn't say the Cardinals were desperate – "I think we're a hungry team, a team that knows it dug a hole for ourselves" – but he couldn't hide his pleasure from getting back in the victory column.
"It's hard to get wins in this league," Arians said. "You better enjoy them when you can."
Images from the "Thursday Night Football" game in Santa Clara