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Red-zone defense, big plays on offense keeping Cards competitive

Larry Fitzgerald, Jim Dray AP

In a wild first half in San Francisco, the Cardinals have used strong defense inside the red zone and some splash plays on offense to draw within 15-14 more than midway through the second quarter.

The 49ers twice intercepted Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer in the first quarter, each time giving San Francisco the ball deep in Arizona territory. However, on both occasions, the Cardinals would hold the 49ers to field goals. And on the drive after the Niners’ second field goal, Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald on a short pass on 3rd-and-5. When a pair of 49ers defensive backs couldn’t make the tackle, Fitzgerald was on his way to a 75-yard touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead.

Then, the Cardinals’ defense came up big once again deep in its own territory, with safety Yeremiah Bell intercepting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the Arizona 1.

However, the 49ers would sack Palmer in the endzone on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession, giving San Francisco an 8-7 lead. Then, Kaepernick connected with Vernon Davis on a 61-yard TD pass, extending the 49ers’ margin to 15-7.

However, to his credit, Palmer has bounced back well, given all he’s endured in less than a half of play. After the 49ers took the 15-7 lead, Palmer led the Cards right back down the field. First, he connected on a 53-yard pass to wideout Robert Golden. Then, on the next play, Andre Ellington rushed off right end for a 15-yard TD, cutting San Francisco’s lead to one point.

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