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Cardinals Find Way To Run Forever Against Niners' Stout Defense

Conner leads way for team's best rushing game of season with 234 yards

Cardinals running back Emari Demercado finishes off his 49-yard touchdown run Sunday against the 49ers.
Cardinals running back Emari Demercado finishes off his 49-yard touchdown run Sunday against the 49ers.

James Conner had a stern look on his face postgame.

The veteran running back didn't look like a guy who had just led the Cardinals to their best rushing game as a team this season, a 234-yard performance against a 49ers defense that was tops in the league allowing only 78.3 rush yards a game.

"I'm not in it for stats, they're not really important," Conner said. "We get pride by winning. We know the type of group we can be, we know we can run the ball when we want to, so it's not surprising. Of course, we take pride in it, but it wasn't a factor today."

Conner stewed about the 45-29 defeat, although the Cardinals' runners gave the Niners fits all game. Conner finished with 86 yards on 14 carries, including a touchdown, and added an explosive run of 44 yards. 

Conner, who averaged over six yards a carry, was not the only running back that had an explosive performance. Emari Demercado emerged from a pile of 49ers defenders and ran into the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown. Prior to Sunday, the 49ers had only given up six rushing touchdowns. Against the Cardinals, Conner, and Demercado each had one.

Demercado finished with 64 yards and running back Michael Carter also finished with 27 yards. Quarterback Kyler Murray added 49 yards himself.

Rookie tackle Paris Johnson Jr. and the offensive line were a big reason for the rushing success. They opened up gaps, creating their own natural high when they saw the backs break free.

"That's huge, especially for us as an offensive line, but for Emari and James and Mike Carter, shoutout to them and how hard they ran," Johnson said. "You'll see on the film how many tackles they broke. I think it was the effort on the back end to get out and extend. It's not just us, but it's also them. I think it's awesome."

The 49ers defense still got theirs, intercepting Murray twice and finishing with three sacks. Still, they were without two starting members of their defensive front in Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, both inactive with injuries. Recognizing those absences on the line, offensive coordinator Drew Petzing called plays to put the running backs in position to eat up some grass.

"We ran it well," Murray said. "I thought coming into the game we wanted to be balanced, do both. I thought we did. (Expletive), we ran the hell out of the ball."

Murray and the offense needed to rely on the running game a lot in this one, especially since the connection wasn't there with his wide receivers. Outside of the running game, tight end Trey McBride kept the offense alive with another 100-yard performance.

When the players return to the facility on Monday to watch the tape and begin preparation for the Bears, Conner said nothing needs to be said to the team that they don't already know.

"There ain't no message, it's just work," Conner said. "(Tackle D.J. Humphries) said it, 'we got three games left and that's where our focus is.'"