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Cardinals Work Overtime To Beat 49ers

Fitzgerald's touchdown caps offensive turnaround in an 18-15 victory


Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauls in the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime of Sunday's 18-15 win over the 49ers.

Whether the Cardinals can find a way to solve their protection problems long-term is yet to be determined, and the way Carson Palmer was whacked around much of Sunday was not what coach Bruce Arians wants to see.

But there the line was working in overtime, the Cards trailing the 49ers by three at University of Phoenix Stadium with a little more than two minutes left. The highlights will lead with the ageless Larry Fitzgerald leaping to high-point a game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass, or Palmer dealing his way down the field.

But somehow, Palmer wasn't harassed like he had been the first four quarters, and that proved to be the difference in the 18-15 win.

"Everyone," right tackle Jared Veldheer said, "was fighting their butts off."

The Cardinals (2-2) stayed within a game of the Los Angeles Rams (3-1), who won in Dallas. Fitzgerald

said Arians had told the team it was a must-win.

"I told our guys on Friday that this is the game I wanted to see, I wanted to us to get in a game that was going to go to the wire, and see what we're made of," Arians said.

The notion was understood in the locker room – "I get where he's coming from (but) I would love a blowout, you know what I'm saying?" veteran safety Antoine Bethea said  -- but any kind of win was necessary. That was especially so after the teams each kicked four field goals in regulation and spent the game unable to threaten any chances at actual touchdowns.

The Cardinals came the closest, but an initial drive was thwarted when Palmer, about to be sacked, tried to throw a pass into the end zone from the San Francisco 4 and had the ball tipped and intercepted. (Running back Andre Ellington also had a near-touchdown reversed on replay, a decision Palmer was puzzled about after.)

Kicker Phil Dawson was the hero up until overtime, as the only source of Arizona points.

"You try to treat (field-goal tries) all the same, but let's be honest, that's hard to do," said Dawson, who was four-for-four after missing three field goals in the first three games.

The 49ers (0-4) got the ball first in overtime needing a touchdown to end the game. Defensive penalties helped San Francisco convert their first two third downs – Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden also injured his knee on one of the plays, and his status is unknown – but as the Niners moved closer

to the end zone, they went conservative.

Eventually, the 17-play drive ended with Robbie Gould's fifth field goal of the game, giving the Cardinals a chance.

"We were trying to play to win the game," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

"I couldn't tell you their mindset on that but I can tell you our mindset was to defend every blade of grass, whether they were going for the touchdown or the field goal," linebacker Kareem Martin said. "We can't really worry about what they were trying to do. We just knew if we forced a field goal, we had another opportunity."

That came from Palmer, who for the game completed 33-of-51 passes for 357 yards as the running game once again struggled (51 yards, 2.3-yards per carry). In overtime, Palmer completed 6-of-7 passes for 77 yards, including his strike to Fitzgerald. He was sacked once on the drive, the sixth one he absorbed in the game, but the passing game actually looked like the one that had been envisioned in training camp.

"I was just thinking, 'We can't tie again,' " Palmer said, referencing the 2016 overtime tie against the Seahawks.

It wasn't Fitzgerald but John Brown in his return that looked like the initial hero, making an amazing grab of a 25-yard toe-tapping touchdown that was initially ruled out. Replays seemed to show Brown got a second foot down, but the play stood.

No matter. Fitzgerald, tightly covered the whole game and held to three catches, popped up. 

"Here's an expert piece of inside information," Dawson said. "When the game is on the line, go to '11.' "

Palmer said the 49ers had some defensive backs switching across the field with each other on the play. Seeing

that "miscommunication" and noticing the coverage on Fitzgerald was not the same as most of the game, Fitz was the target.

"They weren't doing what they were doing earlier (on Fitzgerald)," Palmer said. "Obviously, he made a great play.

"We finally got him in a one-on-one situation, and he does what he did."

It was the only time the entire game the Cardinals held the lead -- as it ended.

Fitzgerald was slow to get up, but that was because wind knocked out of him.

"Consciously I knew we had just won the game but I couldn't breathe," Fitzgerald said. "So it was hard to really be kind of animated and celebrate. (But ) it was great to get the 'W.' "

Fitzgerald got the big play at the end, but Brown had nearly 100 yards combined on receiving yards plus penalty yardage drawn, while Jaron Brown (eight catches for 105 yards) and Ellington (nine catches, 86 yards) had big roles too. Palmer said the 49ers' decision to play a soft zone in overtime helped.

Arians said the Cardinals were going to take their shots once they neared the red-zone. The offensive line was doing enough to make it happen, and the victory was crucial. Dawson was there if needed, but nobody wanted that.

"We didn't want to walk out of here with a tie," Fitzgerald said.

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