TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)It’s not often a 19-point loss generates feelings of optimism in the NFL.
Considering where the Arizona Cardinals are in their current rebuild, there are still many reasons to consider Sunday’s 35-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers an encouraging step forward.
Among them was the substantial fight the team showed after falling behind 21-3 in the second quarter. They pulled within 21-16 late in the third quarter after an impressive 11-play, 99-yard drive ended with Joshua Dobbs hitting Michael Wilson for an 8-yard touchdown.
The 49ers – who are 4-0 and appear to be one of the early favorites to play in the Super Bowl – responded with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win the game.
“We look for ways to improve so that we win no matter who’s across from us,” Dobbs said. “When we play a really good team on the road, with this team obviously being a young team, we take from that.”
Dobbs continues to play well in his role as the fill-in starter for franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. He completed 28 of 41 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Murray is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list after missing the season’s first four games, but coach Jonathan Gannon said Monday that nothing had changed with his status.
In the meantime, Dobbs is playing well enough that the Cardinals aren’t in dire straits. He lost two fumbles in the season’s first game, but hasn’t thrown an interception through four games.
“Truthfully, that’s why we’re in games,” Gannon said. “They had more explosive plays than we did. I don’t think there were any giveaways on either side. They won the explosive play battle. We were even in the turnover battle and they made more plays than us.
“It’s critical as an offense to protect the football and he’s doing a really good job at that.”
The offense continues to play well. James Conner ran for 52 yards on 11 carries, Hollywood Brown caught seven passes for 96 yards and the Cardinals had a respectable 362 total yards against a very good NFL defense. The 99-yard touchdown drive was just the franchise’s third from that distance since 2001.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense was missing four injured starters – L.J. Collier, Josh Woods, Jonathan Ledbetter and Budda Baker – and it showed. Gannon was pleased with the effort from that side of the ball, but said they’ve got to play a little better to have any chance to stop star players such as Christian McCaffrey and the rest of the 49ers. McCaffrey had three rushing TDs and a receiving TD. Niners QB Brock Purdy completed 20 of his 21 pass attempts.
Rookie WR Michael Wilson caught the first two touchdown passes of his NFL career Sunday. He had seven catches for 76 yards. It’s extremely early in his career, but it looks as though the Cardinals might have gotten a steal in the third round.
“I expect Mike to do his job just like everybody,” Gannon said. “When the ball comes to him, he makes plays. He played well.”
WR Rondale Moore had a quiet game Sunday after running for a 45-yard touchdown against the Cowboys last week.
Moore had no catches and was targeted just twice against the 49ers.
Gannon said that Ledbetter (finger) and Woods (ankle) are trending in the correct direction and could return for next week’s game against the Bengals. Baker (hamstring) still has to miss at least two more games while on injured reserve.
99.4 – Dobbs’ passer rating through four games, which ranks 10th in the NFL.
The Cardinals have a solid chance to pick up their second win of the season Sunday when they host struggling quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL