- Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is an offense: All it took for the Cardinals offense to come to life were two interceptions by quarterback Carson Palmer in the game’s first six minutes. Then it was like a switch was flipped and Palmer was making passes we haven’t seen since the first couple weeks of the season. He was threading needles and lofting fades perfectly over defenders -- both types of passes that were picked off at various times this season. And Arizona coach Bruce Arians went to the run game early in the second half, which provided a much-needed balance and slowed the pass rush, giving Palmer more time in the pocket to make better passes. It’s all a domino effect.
Stick figures: Arians has shown a penchant for going to rookies on third down. He has done it with running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, and wide receiver Jaron Brown. But that might need to change. Arians -- like every other coach -- teaches his players to run third-down routes to the sticks, meaning the first-down marker. Each time Palmer went to one of the rookies Sunday on third down, they came up a yard short. Granted, the Niners were sitting back on defense, keeping their secondary on the first-down line, but the rookies couldn’t get the first down and drives faltered. They need to be taught to run their routes a yard or two past the sticks.
Long day on D: Try running into someone at full speed at the same level for three straight hours. Oh, you can’t? Neither can a defense. The Cardinals began to wear down in the third and fourth quarters because they were on the field so much. After a while they couldn’t do the simplest of tasks, such as run the assigned scheme. Even Arians said the defense was on the field for too long, a sign the offense couldn’t hold on to the ball enough. But don’t ask Arians if his defense ran out of gas. “You can’t run out of gas. There is no such thing as run out of gas. Just kick somebody’s ass and you’ll be all right and you’ll get off the field.”
Two points now or later? Arians has always been a creative mind, but he might have outsmarted himself Sunday. He went for two midway through the third quarter and used cornerback Patrick Peterson as the quarterback in a gadget play, the same one Peterson ran against Detroit. But Peterson held on to the ball a moment too long and missed an open Larry Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone. But Arians went for two a little early. Had he taken the extra point, the Cardinals would’ve been within one, then within eight. All manageable down the stretch.