Less than a week after earning the first Pro Bowl nod of his NFL career, Fred Warner put up a performance typical of one of the league’s best.
The former BYU linebacker led the defensive charge for San Francisco in the 49ers’ 20-12 win on Saturday over the Arizona Cardinals, a result that allowed the 49ers to play spoiler to their NFC West rival’s playoff hopes.
Warner had a team-high 14 tackles in the win, including eight solo stops. The third-year pro also made several momentum-changing plays, as he finished with three pass deflections, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
One of those plays came with just over nine minutes left in the game, as the Cardinals chose to go for a fourth-and-2 from their own 35, with San Francisco holding a slim 14-12 lead. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray tried to hit DeAndre Hopkins on a slant for a first down, but Warner deflected the pass away and handed the 49ers prime field position, which led to a San Francisco touchdown two plays later.
Warner’s momentum-changing play came after Arizona had used a long drive to cut its deficit to two points following a touchdown (and failed two-point attempt) on the Cardinals’ previous possession, and then San Francisco went three-and-out, putting the 49ers defense back on the field.
“That fourth-and-2, just trying to make a play and (I) got my hand in the window,” Warner told reporters after the game. “I didn’t know how it was going to affect the rest of the game, but just a full team effort the way the offense came out and dominated, same thing with the defense and special teams.”
In the third quarter, Warner forced a key turnover after the 49ers scored a touchdown to take a 14-6 lead. On the ensuing possession, Arizona tight end Dan Arnold caught a pass on first down, but Warner came in and punched the ball loose just before Arnold went down, and Warner recovered at the Arizona 36.
While San Francisco didn’t capitalize on the prime field position that time, plays like that from Warner set the tone as the Cardinals averaged just 4.4 yards per play and were held to 4 of 16 on third down.
“We play fast, we play physical, we play smart ball, regardless of who’s out there,” Warner said.
Though the 49ers, at 6-9, have been eliminated from postseason play, the win showed improvement for an injury ravaged San Francisco team that had lost three straight and six of seven prior to Saturday.
“We rose to the challenge. This group is so tight-knight. It’s like a true family, a true brotherhood,” Warner said. “I don’t know if you see that a lot in the league. It means the world to come out — even though you say we don’t have anything to play for, we’re out of the playoffs, it’s still a division game, it’s still ball. We’re all competitors.”