Kareem Martin (96), Earl Watford (78) and D.J. Humphries (74) swarm kicker Chandler Catanzaro after Catanzaro's field goal won the game for the Cardinals Sunday.
The kick split the uprights this time, and it was hard not to see it as a season-saver for the Cardinals.
Even coach Bruce Arians said as much following his team's more-dramatic-than-necessary 23-20 win over the 49ers Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, ending on a Chandler Catanzaro 34-yard field goal on the same end of the field where the kicker had missed a winning attempt against Seattle.
"It's over," Arians said. "It's over if you don't win it at home. It really is. Now it's where it needs to be."
It was a drive of redemption that created the game-winning points. Struggling Michael Floyd capped his first 100-yard game of the
season with a leaping 26-yard catch to jump start the march. Carson Palmer, who threw a terrible interception that allowed the 49ers a chance to tie the game, completed four passes as he guided his team down the field.
And then there was Catanzaro, who stood about 10 yards further back than the miss against the Seahawks. This time, the Cardinals (4-4-1) made sure the ball was on the right hashmark before the kick, something Catanzaro admitted he prefers if possible, and he booted it through.
"My kick was just the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence," Catanzaro said.
"I put (the Seattle kick) behind me. It was tough to do that, but it put it behind me and just worked on the fundamentals."
It really shouldn't have come down to that, of course. The 49ers (1-8), losers of eight straight, hadn't been able to stop the run all season and the Cards dominated the first quarter. Up 14-0 just 18 seconds into the second quarter, the Cards had outgained the 49ers, 145-4.
But turnovers undercut the path the Cardinals had first set out upon, as did an inability to run.
"You want to put teams away," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We have to learn how to do that."
Against the NFL's worst run defense, the Cardinals averaged only 3.5 yards a carry and ran it just 23 times, compared to 51
dropbacks to pass. Running back David Johnson gained only 55 yards on 19 attempts (although he kept his streak alive of 100-yard games of total offense with his 46 yards on five catches.)
Fitzgerald was magnificent, hauling in 12 receptions for 133 yards (on 18 targets) despite banging up his knee enough to put on a brace. Floyd had 101 yards on five catches. Palmer had 376 yards passing and one of the interceptions could be excused – a pass that should have been caught for a first down bounced off the chest of J.J. Nelson for the pick – but the second was a poor choice.
"I'm mad at myself for putting our defense and our team in that position," Palmer said.
That defense still could've gotten out of it, with 3:13 left and the 49ers needing to go 57 yards to tie it. But quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a 19-yard rush on third-and-8 and later easily ran in from four yards out on another third down play.
Kaepernick, in fact, had the same amount of rushing yards as Johnson.
"You've got to play for 60 minutes," safety Tony Jefferson said. "We were dominate for the first quarter. Hats off to them. They kept fighting, and we'll go in (Monday) and fix the mistakes we made."
The Cardinals did what they needed to do to keep postseason hopes. Their NFC West hopes took a major shot Sunday night when the Seahawks held on for a 31-24 win in New England -- a road game the Cards had hoped would end up as a Seattle loss. A wild card spot is possible, but there are a ton of teams in a messy NFC playoff picture.
Playing like they did in the second half Sunday won't help the Cardinals in either quest – the next two games are in Minnesota and in Atlanta – but apologies weren't coming after a victory.
"I think a team that was done would've folded," Arians said. "We're 1-0 in our second half. They are hard to get in this league. We'll take them however we can get them."
Images from the Cardinals' game against the 49ers in Week 10