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Cardinals Remain Undefeated By Getting Defensive Against 49ers

Against rookie QB Trey Lance, Cards hold on to 17-10 win

Wide receiver Rondale Moore leaps for the goal line during Sunday's game against the 49ers. He was judged just short, and James Conner ran in the touchdown on the next play.
Wide receiver Rondale Moore leaps for the goal line during Sunday's game against the 49ers. He was judged just short, and James Conner ran in the touchdown on the next play.

The streak of 30-plus points and 400-plus yards of offense disappeared Sunday, a result that was clear in coming early in the game at State Farm Stadium.

The streak of winning? That's not over. Not yet. Not with the Cardinals winning in a new way against the San Francisco 49ers, topping their NFC West rivals, 17-10, with a record-setting defense and some timely hookups between their Pro Bowl quarterback and their Pro Bowl wide receiver.

The Cardinals are 5-0 for the first time since 1974, 14 years before the team even moved to Arizona, to remain the NFL's lone unbeaten team.

"We're resilient," safety Budda Baker said. "Especially on the defensive side of the ball, we're made for these situations.

"We kind of love it in a sense, compared to last year when it was like, 'ahhhhh,' This year, it's like, 'C'mon, let's do it.' "

The 49ers (2-3) were playing rookie quarterback Trey Lance, forced in the lineup with a calf injury to starter Jimmy Garoppolo. They were without star tight end George Kittle, who is on injured reserve.

But the Cardinals were without starting cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson, and suffered an emotional blow when tight end Maxx Williams went out with a serious right knee injury and then starting center Rodney Hudson exited with a ribs injury.

Lance did damage with his legs especially, often carrying the ball between the tackles much like the Panthers used to do with similarly sized Cam Newton. Five times, the 49ers tried to use that size (or its threat) to go for it on fourth down.

Four times, the Cardinals stopped the Niners, including Lance's attempt to score at the goal line in the first half that technically ended in a sack and literally a violent collision between Lance and linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Tanner Vallejo.

It was the first time the Cardinals had stuffed four fourth downs in a game in at least the last 40 years, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Simmons played well. J.J. Watt and Zach Allen had their best games of the season. Watt and Chandler Jones harassed Lance often. Baker had an interception. The Niners were a combined 4-for-16 on third- and fourth-downs, offsetting their 152 yards rushing.

"It was good for use to prove we could win a gritty game like that," said Allen, who was credited with the stop of fullback Kyle Juszczyk on one fourth-down try and had a sack.

The loss of Williams seemed to take an emotional toll out of the Cardinals, all of whom streamed across the field (Williams got hurt on a helmet to the knee along the 49ers sideline) to wish him well as he was put on a cart. Quarterback Kyler Murray said losing Williams also derailed the offense from a strategic standpoint, given that Williams is usually part of every play and the only true tight end receiving weapon.

Enter DeAndre Hopkins, whose final numbers were solid – six catches, 87 yards – but who showed up at the most important time. Watt had prevented the final fourth-down with a batted pass to set up the final scoring drive. On second-and-9, Murray saw Hopkins but couldn't deliver the ball with the pass rush, so he moved – waving Hopkins over – and then found Hopkins for a 30-yard gain.

The next play, Murray threw the jump ball to Hopkins for a 9-yard touchdown, Hopkins snatching the ball away from the tight coverage of cornerback Josh Norman. Not that Hopkins was asking to be the target.

"I never ask," Hopkins said. "I hope they know I should."

The Niners did kick a field goal, but the Cardinals – who only had 304 yards of offense – accomplished another feat by taking the ball over with 4:12 left never letting the 49ers touch it again, getting two first downs to end it.

The Cardinals only had 304 yards of offense. Murray himself called it ugly – and another reason why the Cards continue to stress their one-game-at-a-time thought process.

"You can't get bored of winning," Murray said. "You can't get bored of doing the little things right."

Indeed, Murray acknowledged he was "frustrated" still, a common theme for a quarterback who has mentioned it multiple times after games this season – a season, of course, in which he has yet to experience a loss.

Complaints were at a minimum, however – "I'll take them any way I can get them," coach Kliff Kingsbury said – and there would be enjoyment, even if it was going to be limited to Sunday night.

"You have your fun time, and that Monday, it's back to 0-0," Baker said. "You celebrate a little bit. I'm going to go home and drink some nice drinks."