The Redbirds enjoyed one of their best outings of the year in the opener versus these 49ers and expected similar results this time around. Those sentiments were strengthened when word got out on Wednesday that RB Edgerrin James would be ready and available for the final two contests.
Of course later that same day it was learned that the Kurt Warner era may be over for the Cardinals. Team officials informed the media that he would be placed on injured reserve and would not be eligible to return this season. Warner finished the year with 210-345 (60.9%) passing for 2645 yards, 14 TD, and 8 INT. This obviously puts his future with the Cardinals in serious doubt. Arizona will likely not be inclined to keep a 35 year-old quarterback with a recent history of injury problems. Especially considering they have their future on the roster in the form of QB Matt Leinart, who appears to have a chokehold on the starting job despite a shaky first start.
Before this contest, many of the 49ers players, including QB Alex Smith, talked about the general disrespect they thought the Cardinals squad showed during the two teams' first go-round. The anger they felt over this was apparent right from the start. Actually, even before the start as San Francisco LB T.J. Slaughter and Arizona FS Jack Brewer duked it out near midfield after Slaughter slammed into Brewer in the midst of pre-game warm-ups. The two had to be separated and an all-squad brawl nearly ensued before the coaches and officials settled things down. Both Slaughter and Brewer were ejected from the contest.
Unfortunately, the game itself was nowhere near as interesting as the pre-game party had been. Unless, of course, you are a fan of defense. Both units played well throughout the first half, with neither offense able to cross midfield until 5:23 left in the 2nd quarter when Matt Leinart found TE Leonard Pope open for a 27-yard gain to the 49ers 38. From there, RB Edgerrin James took over, taking a dump pass and bringing it down to the 24. He then took three consecutive handoffs, driving down to the 9 to wind the clock down to the two-minute warning. With a 1st down inside the 10, it looked like Arizona would cruise into the endzone, but that's when the San Francisco defense awoke, with a DE Marques Douglas sack of Leinart back at the 14. After two consecutive plays in which Leinart was forced to throw the ball away, the Cardinals settled for a Neil Rackers field goal and a 3-0 halftime lead.
The second half was a lot like the first half, except all the scoring excitement came early and then quickly dried up. Fortunately for the Redbirds, none of this scoring excitement was generated by the 49ers, as their defense swarmed all game long. LB Gerald Hayes enjoyed a season-high 4 sacks on Alex Smith with DE Chike Okeafor and DT Kendrick Clancy each adding one themselves. RB Frank Gore had arguably his worst performance of the year, going for 7 yards on 13 carries.
The Cardinals were able to score on their first two offensive possessions behind the arm of Matt Leinart and the legs of Edgerrin James. On those two drives, Leinart was 9-11 passing for 111 yards, with Pope and WR Larry Fitzgerald being the main beneficiaries of this performance. James would chip in 41 yards on 6 carries and would cash in both Cardinals TDs. He would finish the game with 98 yards on 18 carries due to RB J.J. Arrington receiving a number of carries (10 carries, 31 yards). Leinart would end the game going 19-28 for 265 yards and 1 INT.
Cardinals win, 17-0.
The season finale will be played in San Diego and may hold some significance as St. Louis dropped their game to Washington this week. This means that if they lose again next week at Minnesota and the Redbirds win against the Chargers, Arizona would gain entry into the playoffs by virtue of their divisional record superiority over the Rams. Regardless of the stakes, the Cardinals can be assured of a greater challenge from the Chargers than was provided this week. The Tomlinson-Gates-Rivers tandem is quite the handful and the boys in red will hopefully be able to avoid the thinking about the "p" word and instead focus on the formidable task at hand.