SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The video of Sunday’s game will provide the Cardinals with a long list of issues with which they must correct, and Steve Wilks acknowledged that when it was over.
But it didn’t stop the half-smile the Cardinals coach had when he was finally asked about how special his first victory was on a personal level.
“Yes it does,” said Wilks, after the Cardinals beat the 49ers, 28-18, at Levi’s Stadium for Wilks’ first win and the Cards’ first in five games this season. “Do you know what I’ve been dealing with the last four weeks? Really? Yes, it feels great.
“Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Save for the 75-yard touchdown pass Josh Rosen threw to Christian Kirk on the first offensive play, little was pretty for the Cardinals Sunday. But Wilks talked about how “there is no such thing as an ugly win,” and for all the flaws, there were bouts of attractiveness.
Five turnovers will do that, including a crucial strip-sack by linebacker Haason Reddick that fellow linebacker Josh Bynes returned 23 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to expand the lead the lead to nine points. The Rosen bomb on the first play too could make a coach swoon.
The defense was beat up on the ground again – 147 yards rushing for the 49ers (1-4), who were down to their third-string running back – and post-Kirk score, the offense again slogged far too often. The 49ers managed to run an astounding 92 plays, beating the Cardinals badly in first downs (33-10) and time of possession (40:12 to 19:48).
For the day, though, the scoreboard was enough.
“To get that first one was great,” said safety Tre Boston, who had an interception. “Now we have to keep that momentum.”
Besides Reddick and Bynes tag-teaming the score, the Cardinals also got a a Chandler Jones strip-sack, a Tre Boston interception, a Patrick Peterson fumble recovery after a forced fumble by defensive tackle Rodney Gunter and a late Bené Benwikere interception to aid the win.
Benwikere’s pick, on the possession after Bynes’ score, set up David Johnson’s second touchdown of the day. Johnson still struggled to make an impact – 55 yards rushing on 18 carries, two catches for 16 yards – but that was a day-long issue with the offense.
Rosen wasn’t as accurate as he was in his first start, and the misfires made a difference. His stats after that first attempt were only 9-for-24 for 95 yards, although he did not turn the ball over.
“It might have been something different every single play,” Rosen said of the accuracy issues. “We’ll see (Monday). But all I care about is this win. I’m pretty happy we got the first one.”
Larry Fitzgerald was smiling after the win and describing the Kirk TD – in which he drew multiple defenders to help open it up for Kirk – but he knew the offense needs to be much more consistent.
“It’s discouraging at times,” said Fitzgerald, who had two catches for 35 yards. “We didn’t do as well as we had hoped.”
The 49ers, already crushed by injuries, lost running back Matt Breita to an ankle injury in the first half, had kicker Robbie Gould miss a field goal for the first time after 33 straight makes, and botched an extra-point snap. And there were all the turnovers.
But Wilks stressed the need to stop teams on third downs more, and while Boston wouldn’t say the defense was exhausted, he too noted the need to shore up that part of the game.
At least the fixes come after a win. Wilks said the Cardinals knew they had not produced – “we owned it,” he said – but at least they aren’t dealing with the zero in the victory column any longer.
“It shows how mentally tough we are,” Boston said. “An 0-and-4 team, if you’re not mentally tough, and you don’t believe in your process, you lose that game right there. You see yourself in the same predicament you’ve been in and you see yourself losing. That’s not us. We saw ourselves winning.”
Images from the Cardinals' Week 5 contest against the San Francisco 49ers