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James Conner Helps Carry Cardinals Past Niners With Huge Day

Running back totals 173 yards and three touchdowns after Edmonds hurt

Running back James Conner prays after scoring one of his touchdowns Sunday against the 49ers.
Running back James Conner prays after scoring one of his touchdowns Sunday against the 49ers.

The Cardinals were already without quarterback Kyler Murray and wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green, so James Conner understood what was left for those remaining on the offense Sunday.

Then tag-team partner Chase Edmonds suffered an ankle injury early in the first quarter, and Conner was ready to shoulder the considerable load.

"Just to see him go down early; I knew they were going to lean on me heavily," said Conner, after his monster performance helped lead the Cardinals to a 31-17 road win over the 49ers. "God is the greatest. I tried to manifest myself having a big game, and it happened. I had a great week of preparation, and it showed."

Against the 49ers' top-10 defense in total yards allowed, Conner averaged 4.6 yards per carry, his second-most in a game this season. On 21 carries, Conner finished with a season-high 96 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

Only Titans' Derrick Henry – who is likely out for the season with a broken foot – has as many rushing touchdowns in the NFL, with 10. Conner is on pace to easily surpass the 12 rushing touchdowns he accumulated in 2018, a year he was named a Pro Bowler with the Steelers.

Veteran Colt McCoy impressed at quarterback in place of Murray, completing 85 percent of his passes for 249 yards. Among his most frequent targets was Conner, who had 77 yards on five catches.

His most electric play of the afternoon occurred after halftime, when McCoy floated a screen pass to the running back, which Conner grabbed and did the rest on a 45-yard score, reaching the end zone untouched behind excellent blocking from teammates.

The touchdown reception gave Conner three touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career. Conner has 11 total touchdowns this season, most in the NFL and most by a Cardinals player through nine games since 1973.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury admitted that he didn't know Conner had such a versatile skillset before the Cardinals signed him in the offseason.

"I thought he was more of a downhill, power back just watching from afar," Kingsbury said. Then we got him here, and he made some spectacular catches in training camp, with his quick twitches and routes. He's been above-and-beyond anything any of us could've expected."

The Cardinals are the first NFL team to reach eight wins in 2021. After the Packers lost to the Chiefs, the Cardinals reclaimed the NFC's No. 1 seed.

The victory over San Francisco also gave the Cardinals a 3-0 record against division opponents this season.

The offense generating 31 points behind 437 yards of total offense is a reason for that. Conner was at the heart of it Sunday.

"It's a sign of a good team to have guys step in and find a way to make it work," McCoy said. "Chase is an unbelievable player, and we'll miss him for hopefully not that long, but I thought James did outstanding today. He really stepped up."