Running back Beanie Wells runs for some of his 79 yards during Monday night's 24-9 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco.
SAN FRANCISCO – The Cardinals were going to ride Beanie Wells back into the game Monday night, and it almost worked.
Then Wells succumbed to the plague of the day – turnovers – torpedoing what was turning into his finest game this season.
Wells ran for 79 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and added a 24-yard reception out of the backfield in Arizona's 24-9 loss to the 49ers. He almost single-handedly boosted the offense in the second half as the Cards had climbed back to within eight points, but Wells fumbled the ball on a first-down carry from the Cardinal 11-yard line.
The 49ers recovered and covered the short field for a hope-killing touchdown.
"It was definitely hard, knowing they were counting on me, giving me the ball in crunch time, and I came up short," Wells said. "I felt I had the ball as tight as I could but it was a hell of a play."
The Cardinals ended up with seven fumbles Monday, losing five. Quarterback Kurt Warner lost one of two, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin lost one late. But the running back crew was tagged three times, with rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling losing the ball after a reception and starter Tim Hightower coughing it up inside his own 10-yard line.
It was the second straight week Hightower lost a fumble in the first quarter, with both turning into touchdowns for the opposition. Hightower didn't get another carry after his fumble Monday.
"We've worked on it earlier in the year and it hasn't been as much of a problem," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Each one of our backs had a fumble and that's certainly unacceptable, so we will have to work on how they are carrying the football."
"We just can't do that," Whisenhunt added.
Hightower has lost four fumbles this season. Wells has officially lost two, although Wells also dropped a pitch in St. Louis that the Rams recovered.
"You try to (move past it), but at times like this you can't ignore it, you have to really focus on it," Wells said. "It all comes down to focus on that ball. Obviously I felt I had it as tight as I could but something wasn't good enough."
FITZ SHOULD BE OK, WARE ISN'T
A bad night could have been disaster after Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald left the game with a right knee sprain, after Niner defensive back Michael Lewis fell on Fitzgerald's lower leg and bent it hard into the upper leg.
"When he hurt it, we thought it was a big scare," Whisenhunt said. "We thought it could be something long term. But it was encouraging to see him come back."
Fitzgerald will likely undergo an MRI Tuesday to further assess the problem, although he looked OK after returning to the game.
The same can't be said for a couple of other Cards. Key third safety Matt Ware left early in the game with a right knee injury that is feared serious, and while Ware will be reevaluated, his availability could be in jeopardy. And kicker Neil Rackers continues to fight through a right groin injury that seemed to limit him Monday. ESPN cameras caught Rackers wincing after a warmup kick prior to the game.
Left tackle Mike Gandy (pelvis) also left the game early for the second time in his last two appearances, and you have to wonder if the Cards will go to Jeremy Bridges again while Gandy tries to get well.
OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT
While the offense's seven turnovers was the main and obvious storyline, the Cards' defense did have some issues, beginning with three offsides penalties – two by Calais Campbell and one by Gabe Watson – on the first six plays.
Whisenhunt said that came from being "overemotional." But the Cards also got caught by an old nemesis, running back Frank Gore, who piled up 167 yards rushing as the 49ers had 189 yards rushing all told.
"When you start on defense with three offside penalties, you kind of hand them momentum in the game," nose tackle Bryan Robinson said. "Then you give up 200, 300 yards rushing, whatever. They looked like the division leaders. We looked like, I don't know, the Rams."
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