Sports

Defense has been the difference for unbeaten Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. — What took place Sunday afternoon inside State Farm Stadium showed how capable the Arizona Cardinals are of winning when things don’t go their way.

The Cardinals escaped with a 17-10 victory, but the San Francisco 49ers used a talented defensive front to pressure Arizona and it worked. Arizona had averaged 35 points per game through the first four weeks of the season and San Francisco put a lid on those offensive fireworks. The Cardinals scored their fewest points of 2021 by two touchdowns on Sunday.

But when things didn’t go as planned on offense, Arizona’s defense picked up the slack. The Cardinals stopped San Francisco on four of their five fourth-down tries, including a vicious and violent goal-line stop of Niners rookie quarterback Trey Lance.

That play, not giving up that 1 yard, was “championship football,” wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said.

“That’s huge,” said quarterback Kyler Murray of the defense. “That’s what you want to see. Complementary football, of course, I think today, we leaned on them, they held it down, and we scored when we needed to in the end.”

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as style points and the Cardinals are still the NFL’s only unbeaten team at 5-0.

“I’d take them any way I can get them, especially division wins,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Since Murray took over as the franchise quarterback of the Cardinals in 2019, the team had not won a game while scoring less than 24 points. They scored a touchdown fewer than that against the 49ers and still came out on top. For the season, the Cardinals are giving up just 19 points per game, almost four points fewer than last season.

Winning a game like Sunday’s will go a long way inside the Cardinals’ locker room and shows that this team can win in multiple ways.

“I think it was good for us to kind of prove that we could win a gritty game like that, the defense could win the game,” defensive lineman Zach Allen said. “I think the only real test that we truly had was probably that Minnesota game and I think we kind of lucked out with a missed kick so, I mean, we’ll take it but to kind of prove that we can win a close game like that the way we did is definitely good.”

To win that way showed Hopkins the Cardinals are tough, both physically and mentally for not giving up even though the game wasn’t going Arizona’s way. Safety Budda Baker described the Cardinals in a word: “Resilient.”

It may be early in the season but Sunday’s win was the type of game Arizona will likely see at some point in the postseason, should they continue their torrid pace and get to the playoffs.

“It’s not always gonna be sweet and pretty flashy and have a lot of touchdown and stuff like that,” Murray said. “You kind of got to capitalize when you can. That’s a great team over there. It was definitely, to our standards, maybe a ugly one offensively but we got it done and that’s all that matters.”


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