There were several big plays and key moments that were instrumental in the 49ers' victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. It's fair to say that the 49ers won the matchup without too many issues, but it's worth noting that a 12-point victory could easily be a narrow loss if not for a few plays.
One play in particular occurred late in the third quarter. The Cardinals were in the middle of a long drive, and in the progress of completing their 11th play of the drive, a wold-be 7- or 8-yard reception from quarterback Carson Palmer to wide receiver Larry FItzgerald.
That play would have put Arizona in position to convert on their fourth first down on the drive. It could have easily ended in a touchdown, which would have made the game 27-22 in favor of Arizona, heading into the fourth quarter. Needless to say, we couldn't have that happen.
So of course, who else stepped up but Patrick Willis? Fitzgerald made a catch over the middle and looked like he might burn the defense for another big gain, but Willis followed Fitzgerald got on him and was about to jam the ball lose for a fumble just before Fitzgerald's knees were down. The 49ers recovered and scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
Here's what the play looked like live (with slightly less color!):
Now, at the time of watching, I was pretty convinced that the play was going to be ruled a completion with Fitzgerald down by contact. The ball is clearly coming out very close to the point where his knees are down, it just seemed, at the time too good to be true. But then I noticed it was Willis who made the tackle, and I don't think there is a single player in the NFL with greater presence of mind on the football field.
So I figured that Willis got that club fist of his in there and jarred the ball loose. The broadcast confirmed my suspicions with multiple angles. There wasn't any particularly good angle of Willis' hand hitting the football by any means. but there was one good angle of him doing the motion from behind, and you can see his form pretty clearly.
Here's that below:
Turnovers win football games, ladies and gentlemen. The 49ers have had some issues protecting the football on offense and one of these days, they'll lose a game just like the Cardinals did on a play like the one above. Fortunately, they have been getting better at it these past couple weeks.
So for now, we bask in the awesomeness that is Patrick Willis and this forced fumble, made all the more impressive by the fact that he managed to force it on a player of Fitzgerald's experience and caliber. Go Niners.