SAN FRANCISCO -- It's pretty typical for the offense to praise the defense and the defense to do it right back.
But it's not as often the offense flat out says the defense saved its rear.
“I really tip my hat to the defense in the first half because we could’ve been out of it in (the first) seven minutes,” Cardinals left tackle Eric Winston said.
Without the Cardinals’ defense, Sunday’s 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers could’ve been over long before seven minutes passed. Arizona held the Niners to no more than four plays on their first four drives, two of which ended in field goals. Arizona's offense, however, kept giving the Niners opportunities, throwing two interceptions in the game's first 6 minutes.
But it wasn’t just that the Cards were stopping the Niners on third down, it was where they were doing it. Arizona held on its own 7-yard-line for three straight plays and then from its 11, 6 and 8 on another drive. Then in the second quarter, Yeremiah Bell intercepted Colin Kaepernick on the goal line from the 2.
Another red zone trip. Another trip without points.
“Our motto on defense, like Coach always said, (is) defend every blade of grass,” nose tackle Dan Williams said. “Just cause they’re down there, doesn’t mean they have to score a touchdown.
“We actually don’t want to give up any points. They get down there and we want to hold them to a field goal and when they get to a field goal we want to block that.”
Before San Francisco started its last drive of the first quarter, the one that ended with Bell’s interception, the Niners had a total of minus-1 yard. The defense saw the dividends of its work when the offense turned a corner midway through the second with a three-play touchdown drive.
But it started to slow in the second half, when the defense began not adhering to gap assignments and freestyling more, Williams said. The Cardinals couldn't stop the same running play no matter how many times the Niners ran it, rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu said.
“I thought our defense played outstanding until they were out there too long again,” head coach Bruce Arians said.
Sunday, linebacker John Abraham said, was an example of a true team effort. One side wasn’t going to let the other fail. They’d have each other’s backs, Williams added.
“I think it’s just the character of our defense,” Bell said. “We feel like we’re a strong unit. We feel like we can hold up against anything.”
Against the 49ers, the Cardinals showed they could.