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Take Five: 49ers Dominate Arizona

Posted Nov 20, 2011

Ray McDonald was upset with himself sitting in front of his locker inside Candlestick Park’s home locker room.

His team had won its ninth game of the season (eighth in a row), forced five turnovers, allowed seven points and posted two sacks in an otherwise dominant performance.

And still, after all that, McDonald had one play on his mind.

The problem, though insignificant in the grand scheme of things, was a 34-yard run surrendered to Arizona Cardinals running back Chester Taylor.

It was also the longest run surrendered by the 49ers defense in 203 rushing attempts this season, something not lost on McDonald at all.

Taylor’s run was the longest from scrimmage by both teams and it set up Arizona’s lone score, a 23-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald on the very next play. The touchdown wiped off what could have been San Francisco’s first shutout since Oct. 4, 2009.

Sure, McDonald was upset about the points allowed. But the run really had him peeved.

“We can’t let that happen in games,” McDonald said. “We have to keep playing solid defense and keep giving the ball back to our offense.”

McDonald and company did that all right, forcing four defensive takeaways to go along with a muffed punt recovered by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

Safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner recorded interceptions while star inside linebacker Patrick Willis further demonstrated his case for Defensive Player of the Year with an interception and a forced fumble on the day.

“Coach Fangio called some great defensive calls, and when he calls them, we have to execute,” said Willis, the humble play-maker, who totaled seven tackles to go along with his three pass breakups. “I think today, we did a pretty good job of that.”

Willis got the takeaway train rolling in the first half with an impressive interception that first entered the arms of cornerback Tarell Brown.

Willis recognized the route being run in front of him and had enough awareness to haul in John Skelton’s errant pass.

“We know anytime you get turnovers and get the ball back to your offense, it makes your chances of scoring and winning even higher,” Willis added on a day where the 49ers clearly exemplified that fact, possessing the football for 44:16 compared to Arizona’s 15:44.

Chances of victory went up after San Francisco used Arizona’s pair of first half turnovers to get out to a 9-0 lead.

Three forced turnovers and two more offensive touchdowns later, the 49ers had themselves a 23-0 lead before allowing Taylor’s big run and Fitzgerald’s big catch, which snapped Arizona’s chances of being shutout for the first time since 2003.

Despite the late-game heroics, truth be told, the strong defensive tone started pretty early for the 49ers.

A three-and-out was certainly a statement for the unit and was due in large to cornerback Carlos Rogers, who was involved in stopping Arizona’s first three plays from scrimmage. Rogers broke up a third down pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald and also made a second-down tackle on Beanie Wells.

After Willis’ impressive interception, the 49ers came up with their second takeaway of the game when Wells fumbled in a sea of 49ers defenders. Willis came up emphatically celebrating the play which was initially ruled down by contact. But thanks to Willis’ reaction, combined with a slow motion replay of the fumble, a challenge flag was thrown by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who conveniently fired the red flag to midfield.

Harbaugh’s challenge was rewarded and Willis’ forced fumble was recovered by Whitner, who added an interception in the third quarter, followed by a 48-yard return.

Up 23-0 to start the fourth quarter, the shutout bid remained strong for the 49ers defense when Dashon Goldson recorded a diving interception over the middle to give 49ers their fourth takeaway of the game.

The 49ers added their fifth takeaway of the game on a fumbled punt by Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson, which was recovered by Bowman.

As a result of the stingy defensive and special teams play, Arizona’s average starting field position was at its own 23, while San Francisco’s was at its 38-yard line.

Rookie Aldon Smith maintained his team lead in sacks, dropping Richard Bartel for a six-yard loss to give him 7.5 sacks on the season. Fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks recorded a sack as well, giving him 6.0 on the season.

But despite all the good from the game, the 49ers defense knows there’s a 34-yard run waiting for them in their next film review.

For them, it sours a pretty sweet moment, and is one that will continue to keep them motivated.

“We played as a team and that’s what it’s all about, playing team-ball on defense,” McDonald added. “We all played together and did well… except for that long run at the end.”

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