Around the NFC West: Cardinals step up

Seven or fewer points have separated winners from losers in 10 of the Arizona Cardinals' first 13 games. They are finally winning the close ones now that their defense is giving them a chance.

Holding San Francisco to 233 yards and 12 first downs would have seemed unthinkable at times this season. The Cardinals did it Sunday during their 21-19 victory over the 49ers.

They got some breaks, too. Has there ever been a more fortunate Cardinals replay challenge than the one Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt issued just as the 49ers were executing a fake field goal that might have staked them to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter?

This sequence was a crusher for the 49ers, but great for the rivalry between the teams. Arizona had suffered plenty in this series, losing the previous five. It's not a rivalry if the same team wins every time.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals could laugh about their good fortune on the replay challenge after claiming their fifth victory in their past six games. Clark Haggans: "Whiz, I saw him in the locker room right before the game started, he was practicing pulling the red flag out of his sock and throwing it on the field. I didn't know when he was going to use it but his timing was impeccable." Noted: Teams tend to make their breaks when they play better. Or, at the very least, their breaks matter more when packaged with better play. Foiling the fake field goal was key, but the Cardinals made it relevant by connecting on a 60-yard touchdown pass moments later.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic points to one key in Larry Fitzgerald's big game against the 49ers. Boivin: "The last time these teams met, just three weeks ago in San Francisco, Fitzgerald was held to three catches for 41 yards in a 23-7 loss. After laboring over game film, the coaches opted to move Fitzgerald inside, where it would be easier for both the receiver and (John) Skelton to recognize double-coverage, and would help keep the defense off-balance about what routes Fitzgerald would run. It worked." Noted: Before Sunday, Fitzgerald had 38 receptions for 638 yards and five touchdowns lined up outside. He had 16 receptions for 300 yards and one touchdowns from the slot. He had one reception after lining up in the backfield. Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic passes along this comment from Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell: "Everything's clicking now. (Darnell) Dockettwas just saying earlier that if we had the full offseason to work, we'd probably be (12-1) right now. We're 6-7 trying to get to 7-7 and hopefully finish 9-7 and give ourselves a chance at making the playoffs."

Also from McManaman and Somers: Whisenhunt said the Cardinals held out Kevin Kolb as a precaution after Kolb showed concussion-like symptoms. Noted: Teams surely took notice after the Cleveland Browns' experience with Colt McCoy in the Thursday night game.

More from Somers: Cardinals notes, including one suggesting why Sam Acho gets more playing time than O'Brien Schofield among the team's outside linebackers.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers Whisenhunt's explanation for kicking an extra point after taking a 21-19 lead early in the fourth quarter. Whisenhunt: "I thought that was early. Certainly I was thinking about it at the end, when we were only leading by two and they had the ball, but our defense bailed us out, so it’s not really a question now, right?"

Also from Urban: The Cardinals trusted their defense and prevailed.