Cardinals fight back from early deficit before faltering late in 35-16 loss to the 49ers

Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (6) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during...
Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (6) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)(Josie Lepe | AP)
Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 4:16 PM MST
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — If the Arizona Cardinals have proven anything four games into coach Jonathan Gannon’s tenure, it’s that they won’t be an easy out.

Coming into the game as a heavy underdog for a second straight week, the Cardinals fought back from a big first-half deficit to make it a tight contest late in the third quarter before wearing down in the fourth to lose 35-16 to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. “We just didn’t make enough plays there,” Gannon said. “But we got back in the game. We just couldn’t do enough to sustain to really make it a game, it kind of got away there in the fourth. But I’m proud of them, how they battled. We were there, they just made a couple more plays than us.”

The Cardinals (1-3) lost two close games to open the season against Washington and the New York Giants before shocking Dallas last week. They fell behind 21-3 early against the 49ers (4-0) before rallying back to 21-16 late in the third quarter when Joshua Dobbs threw his second touchdown pass of the game to Michael Wilson. They couldn’t get any closer than that, allowing two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the final outcome more lopsided.

“I am never happy after a loss, but knowing that you have some guys in your foxhole that are willing to fight, scratch and claw, that’s always great to know,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “Happy? No, never happy after a loss. That is a positive, knowing that we have guys that are scrapping. We have a good team. It’s just about getting the small details together.”

The Cardinals were down 18 points late in the second quarter when Gannon made a bold risk that paid off, calling for a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from his own 21. Upback Ezekiel Turner converted on the run, and Dobbs then executed the rest of the drive capped by a 16-yard TD pass to Wilson.

Arizona then forced a punt on the opening drive of the second half before driving 99 yards for another TD that made it a five-point game. “It was a great responding by the team,” Dobbs said. “We fight as a team no matter what the situation is. We have the mindset just put the ball down and let’s go play. It was great to see that response as a team. Obviously, you don’t want to be put in that situation, but when you do, now the team plays good complimentary football.”

Arizona couldn’t get over the hump, allowing Christian McCaffrey to score his fourth TD on the ensuing drive, taking a third-down sack after driving to the San Francisco 35 after that and then allowing another long touchdown drive by San Francisco.

The lesson for the Cardinals was they aren’t good enough to spot a team like the 49ers that big of a lead. “It’s tough when it gets that close,” Dobbs said. “But when you play a good team, especially on the road, I think it’s a learning opportunity for us as a team. We have to get started quicker in all phases in order to stay in the game and give us an opportunity for four quarters.”

The Cardinals will host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Oct. 8, at 1:05 p.m. at State Farm Stadium.

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