Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel returns an interception for a touchdown Sunday, the first points in his team's 47-7 win over San Francisco.
Adrian Wilson's name was emblazoned along the Cardinals' Ring of Honor Sunday, after years of starring on the team's defense.
Wilson would have loved to be a part of what the current unit decided to put on display while he waited for his ceremony.
"This game was definitely for Adrian," cornerback Patrick Peterson said, after the Cardinals crushed the San Francisco, 47-7, at University of Phoenix Stadium. "I told him we were going to have a big game today, and I'm happy we beat those guys the way we did on his day."
It couldn't have gotten any bigger and quicker. The first time the 49ers had the ball, cornerback Justin Bethel – on his first defensive snap of the season – picked off quarterback Colin Kaepernick and returned the interception 21 yards for a touchdown. The second time the 49ers had the ball, safety Tyrann Mathieu made an interception, returning it 33 yards for a touchdown.
In all, the defense picked off Kaepernick four times – Mathieu had a second, and cornerback Jerraud Powers had one – and
the unit also stuffed running back Carlos Hyde for a safety.
It was hard to tell if Wilson, who now works in the front office, was wearing a wider smile during his halftime ceremony or after the demolition was over.
The rout isn't going to stop coach Bruce Arians from cautioning against overconfidence. His message to his team last week that they "ain't (expletive)" isn't completely changing.
But, Arians allowed with a grin, "they smell just a little better."
It was the biggest margin of victory for the Cardinals since they whipped Houston, 44-0, in 1970 and the first time they have scored at more than 40 points in two straight games since 1969. The last time the Cardinals started 3-0 in back-to-back seasons? Try all the way back in 1923-24.
This is without two starters on offense, it should be noted, in running back Andre Ellington and guard Mike Iupati, both of whom are hurt.
It mattered not. Chris Johnson ran for 110 yards on only 22 carries as the Cards' resurgence in the run game continued.
Quarterback Carson Palmer did get sacked for the first time this season and threw a bad interception – he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds – but he rallied for 311 yards passing and two touchdown passes. Both went to Larry Fitzgerald, who has apparently decided to revisit 2008. Fitzgerald ended with nine catches for 134 yards.
"It wasn't perfect, it wasn't pretty, there are definitely a ton of things we can improve on," Palmer said, adding later that perfection "is something you always strive for, maybe you never get."
Said Fitzgerald, "That's scary to think about that, that we can get much better."
Perhaps the Cardinals can get better on defense too, although the 49ers (1-2) would hope to differ after a game of only 10 first downs and 156 net yards.
"Very hard to see myself go out and play like that and hurt this team the way I did," said Kaepernick, who completed 9-of-19 passes for a mere 67 yards.
It's a defense that hasn't even used newcomer Sean Weatherspoon much because of how well linebacker Kevin Minter has played. It's a defense that couldn't get Bethel on the field because of other options, and then had Bethel make the huge opening play to start the rout.
"To finally get a pick-6, actually get a pick in general, took me four years, but I don't mind getting a pick-6 for my first one," Bethel said.
"I think that really hurt Kaepernick's confidence, throwing pick-6s back to back like that. We could saw the ball didn't have the zing on it like it should. He was kind of throwing off his back leg. We definitely felt we could make something happen."
Late last week, the Cardinals sat in their team meeting and got a sneak peek at the Wilson video that was to play at Wilson's ceremony. The emotional music pounded in the darkened room, and Wilson's big hits – many against the 49ers – were on display.
"Before B.A. showed the video, he said, 'I'm going to show you a player who was always intense,' " Minter said. " 'I know we don't do this, but this video is so well put together, this guy, he played with such fire, I feel like you all you see it and you all should try come out like this guy.' "
The message looked like it was received.
Images from the Week 3 game between the Cardinals and 49ers