GLENDALE -- For a team that possesses a plethora of firepower, the Arizona Cardinals were forced to lean on their defense in a close 17-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers to push the team to 5-0.
"We knew coming in we would get their best shot and they played their tails off and fortunately we got those fourth-down stops and found a way to win," said Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury following the win. "I knew it would be a dog fight."
The 49ers were 1-for-5 on fourth-down conversions Sunday, as the Cardinals defense rose to the occasion (multiple times) when they saw their number dialed. Arizona also held San Francisco to 3-for-11 on third-down conversions.
"I take them any way I can get them, especially division wins. That is a great team, great culture, they play so hard and play together and have great energy on the sideline. So if you can beat them it's a heck of a Sunday."
The most notable of those fourth-down stops came early in the game, when 49ers quarterback Trey Lance was stopped inches short of scoring to draw San Francisco even at a touchdown per team in the beginning of the second quarter.
Linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who put his body on the line to make the stop, was in concussion protocol following the stop but later resumed play.
"That was huge, you see Isaiah Simmons, you see Chandler Jones trying to sprint and cut off Trey Lance, he was a very fast QB, a guy who is elusive," said Cardinals safety Budda Baker. Linebacker Tanner Vallejo was also in on the hit on Lance.
"You saw him (Lance) making moves out there and you just saw the mentality of just you know, each blade of grass always matters. You want to make the stop every time and that fourth-down stop like you said, it's just so exciting for me to see it and watch it. It was definitely exciting to hear the fans yell and guys be excited and of course eliminate points, eliminate touchdowns, eliminate a field goal and get the offense on the field. That's our job each and every time you get on the field."
Lance's first start at the professional level didn't go as planned, at least on the 49ers side of the game. Lance was 15 of 29 for 192 yards and one interception with a 58.4 passer rating, although he did emerge as the game's leading rusher with 89 yards on 16 carries.
Baker was grateful for the interception, which fell into his lap on an overthrow on only Lance's second pass attempt of the game.
"(I) appreciate him, man. That overthrow, I appreciate that," said Baker with a smile on his face.
Games won't always look pretty, especially in the NFC West. There will be times when the offense won't be able to put on a show of blistering, high-scoring football just as we saw today.
However, great teams find ways to win when their backs are against the wall and the defense needs to answer. On Sunday, the Cardinals defense grabbed a pivotal victory for the team to improve to 2-0 in divisional play. Last season, the Cardinals won only two of their six division games.
Arizona's defense wouldn't have it any other way.
Defensive end Zach Allen said, "I think it was good for us to kind of prove that we could win a gritty game like that (and) the defense could win the game. I think the only test that we truly had was probably that Minnesota game and I think we kind of lucked out with the missed kick. So I mean we'll take it, but to kind of prove that we could win a close game like that, the way we did is definitely good."
The Cardinals' stretch doesn't get any easier, as the team will pack their bags and head to Cleveland for a road game against the Browns. Matchups with the Packers and 49ers (again) are also close on the docket as well.
Yet, the Cardinals maintain their mantra of going "1-0" once again, and this time it was the defenders who were able to tie their cape and save the day for Arizona.