There are no moral victories in the NFL, but the San Francisco 49ers defense showed vast improvements in a 19-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12.
The outing was markedly better than their meeting with the Cardinals in Week 3, when Arizona scored 33 points against San Francisco's defense (two 49ers pick-sixes accounted for the other 14 to get to the game total of 47 points).
The Cardinals were held to 2.4 yards per carry on Sunday and starting running back Chris Johnson had just 17 yards on 12 carries. Carson Palmer, one of the league's top MVP candidates, was held to 24-of-40 passing for 271 yards and no touchdowns. Palmer did have one rushing score which proved to be the eventual game-winner.
Larry Fitzgerald, who had more than 100 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers in Week 3, was kept to 66 yards receiving on 10 catches.
"It's a sign of progress," Bowman said. "We were focused prior to this game. Today, on both sides of the ball, we gave what we needed to give. Today's team is a team that's going to win a lot of games. For us to respond like that after losing the way we did the first game, that says a lot. I'm happy about the way we played. We can definitely build on this.
"We didn't want to get embarrassed like we did last time. Guys wanted a different outcome."
The 49ers put constant pressure on Palmer. Although the defense came away with just one sack, Arizona's quarterback was hit nine times. Mike Purcell was the one to get the sack of Palmer, the first of his career.
Bowman tied for the team lead with eight tackles while adding one quarterback hit and one pass defended.
The linebacker said the success of the pass-rush can be credited to proper gameplanning during the week.
"We gave him a lot of different looks," Bowman said. "You hear him talk, and if he knows what you're in, he's pretty good at getting the ball to the right guy. Giving him different looks on early downs was the key to getting him off his spot."
On Arizona's first touchdown drive, San Francisco nearly pulled off an unthinkable goal-line stand. The Cardinals ran nine plays inside the 49ers 5-yard line before David Johnson finally scored from 1-yard out. Arizona was aided by four penalties by San Francisco's defense.
"We were playing hard," Bowman said. "That's all I took out of that. They weren't able to get those quick-hitting touchdown passes. For us to hold up like that, we know we can play some goal-line defense."
San Francisco is still yet to allow 20-plus points at home this season through six games. The challenge now is to translate those performances on the road, where the team has allowed 34.6 points per game.
The 49ers will have another opportunity to do just that in Week 13 when they travel to Chicago for a game against the Bears.