Ex-Steelers RB James Conner Has Career Game vs. 49ers

James Conner touchdown

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images James Conner of the Arizona Cardinals runs the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 7, 2021.

The Arizona Cardinals offense didn’t miss a beat after starting running back Chase Edmonds suffered an ankle injury on Arizona’s first offensive play of the game on Sunday. The Cards simply moved forward with former Pittsburgh Steelers starter James Conner, who produced 173 total yards and three touchdowns en route to a 31-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. With the win, Arizona raised its record to an NFC West leading 8-1, with the 49ers falling into a tie for last place at 3-5.

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Conner Reached 2 Career Highs on Sunday

Most of James Conner’s production against the 49ers came on the ground, as he had 21 rushes for 96 yards (4.6 yards per carry), with a long of 35 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The first touchdown run came from 13 yards out with 6:08 left in the first quarter.

The second made him only the third Cardinals player to score 10+ rushing touchdowns in a season.

Conner was also targeted five times in the passing game, catching five balls for 77 yards, including a 45-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown early in the third quarter—the longest reception of his five-year career. The three touchdowns scored is also a career high for him.

Moreover, the three scores tied him for the NFL lead in total touchdowns with 11, equaling Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, who is now on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

According to ESPN (via the Elias Sports Bureau), Conner is just the fourth player with 11 scrimmage TDs through his first nine games since 1990, joining wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens and former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor.

Kliff Kingsbury: Conner Has Been ‘Above And Beyond’

In his post-game press conference, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Conner has been more than what he expected, at least from a versatility standpoint.

“Honestly, I thought he was more of a power/downhill back just watching from afar,” said Kingsbury. But then when we got him here and I watched the route-running … he made some spectacular catches in training camp and had quick-twitch in his routes. He’s been above and beyond anything any of us could have expected and just his work ethic and his approach to the game each and every day—it’s phenomenal.”

As for Conner, he recently told ArizonaCardinals.com that he “feels brand-new” playing for the Cards, where he has been reunited with former Steelers running backs coach James Saxon.

To be sure, he has benefitted from being part of a platoon with the aforementioned Chase Edmonds. Prior to the season, Conner boldly predicted that both would thrive as a 1-2 punch.

But if Edmonds remains out for any length of time, Conner figures to get even more opportunity to improve his stats, further increasing his chances of making his second Pro Bowl.

Conner first earned Pro Bowl honors during his second season in Pittsburgh (2018), when he produced 1,470 yards from scrimmage and scored 13 total touchdowns.

He was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh, where he was recruited as a defensive end and once had a chance to play Meet Me at the Quarterback with Aaron Donald, who has thrice won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with the Los Angeles Rams.

Conner visited the Cardinals in April 2021 after it became clear that the Steelers were not interested in re-signing him, much to the chagrin of head coach Mike Tomlin, who was said to be “heartbroken” about losing Conner in free agency.

In his autobiography ‘Fear is a Choice,’ Conner relates how he beat cancer while at Pitt and how he has come to embrace his role as a cancer survivor.

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