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Cardinals Easily Weather Trip To Pittsburgh For Victory

Conner scores twice in return home during 24-10 decision over Steelers

Tight end Trey McBride celebrates a touchdown catch Sunday against the Steelers.
Tight end Trey McBride celebrates a touchdown catch Sunday against the Steelers.

PITTSBURGH – James Conner, sporting a blue Panthers shirt signifying his University of Pittsburgh pedigree, still was soft-spoken. That's who he is.

Given, however, that it was after the Cardinals' stunning 24-10 beatdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers – his former team – Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, it was impossible not to allow a small smile.

"Truly special," the veteran running back said after piling up 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a four-hour-plus game that featured heavy rain and two delays for lightning that totaled about 90 minutes. "The emotions were going.

"I had this vision of coming home and trying to play my best football and let God do the rest. He let us have a day."

The game was ugly, but it was the good kind of ugly for the Cardinals (3-10), who evened their record to 2-2 since the return of quarterback Kyler Murray. It wasn't anything like the previous week, when the Cards were hammered at home against the Rams.

The Steelers (7-5) are in playoff contention, and they featured arguably the best defense in the NFL. Yet the Cardinals' own defense dominated, the offense found a rhythm, and special teams added some key plays in the odd upset.

"When we got on the plane Friday, I knew how it was going to go," coach Jonathan Gannon said. "It showed up all week."

The game turned in the second quarter, when the Cardinals' defense stoned Steelers running back Najee Harris on a fourth-down sneak at the Arizona 1.

Defensive lineman Kevin Strong Jr. ultimately made the play, which signified the game. The Steelers outgained the Cardinals, 317-282, but had only three points until a late meaningless touchdown.

"I just wanted to come off the ball and do my job," Strong said. "We did what we were supposed to do. It gave us a spark, and that's a great feeling."

Coach Jonathan Gannon congratulates running back James Conner after Conner scored a touchdown Sunday against the Steelers.
Coach Jonathan Gannon congratulates running back James Conner after Conner scored a touchdown Sunday against the Steelers.

Murray took over and, leaning on tight end Trey McBride, moved the Cardinals 99 yards. McBride, who lost a TD catch on a replay overturn, grabbed a five-yard touchdown on the very next snap to cap the drive.

To start the second half, Cardinals punter Blake Gillikin launched a 62-yard punt that was downed at the Pittsburgh 7. Playing for starter Kenny Pickett -- who injured his ankle a play before the fourth-down stand -- Mitch Trubisky then had to deal with a low snap a few plays later. Defensive lineman Roy Lopez hit Trubisky to cause the fumble, and Dante Stills recovered at the Pittsburgh 24.

Conner soon after capped that drive with a one-yard TD run, and the Cardinals were in control of the game from there.

"I felt good the whole game," said Murray, whose stats (13-for-23, 145 yards, 20 yards rushing, no turnovers) didn't fully explain how well he played. "We've got to settle in and settle down earlier, myself included."

Murray again leaned on McBride, who had eight catches for 89 yards, had four of his grabs on the 99-yard drive that ultimately turned the game. He has turned into the target Murray looks to often in time of need.

"I don't know about that," McBride said. "I think he can trust me."

The Cardinals definitely trust Conner, whose longest run of 29 yards sapped what was left of the hometown hopes late in the fourth quarter. Conner had two yards after five carries. He had 88 yards on 15 carries after halftime.

"We were able to stay with it," Conner said. "We were able to have a day."

The Cardinals have only four games left, but first they head into their bye week feeling much better than they had the previous game. During the weather delays, the players went into the locker room trying to dance some and keep their legs loose – Conner was quick to emphasize he didn't do any of the dancing – but there was some happy dancing after the game too.

"This was special," Conner said. "It was special."