A decade ago this weekend (on Dec. 28 to be exact), the Cardinals knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs with a dramatic Hail Mary touchdown pass from Josh McCown to Nate Poole that thrust the Packers into an improbable postseason berth. Ten years later, McCown is a backup Bear, hoping his own team can get into the playoffs. Larry Fitzgerald, the guy the Cards drafted because they went from the No. 1 to No. 3 overall pick that day, is the face of the franchise. And the Cardinals are hoping Mike Glennon can be their Josh McCown.
Like the Packers that day, who still needed to beat the Broncos to have a Vikings loss mean anything, the Cardinals must knock off the 49ers to have a shot at the playoffs. But if they do, they must count on the Buccaneers – playing the role of the 2003 Cardinals – to knock off, in New Orleans, the heavily favored Saints – playing the role of the 2003 Vikings. It’s unlikely, yes. But so too were the Cards, McCown and Poole.
“Anybody can beat anybody in the National Football League,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s a tough place to play but they play them every year in that division.”
Then again, Arians has stressed to his team all week they should only be paying attention to the 49ers and not the scoreboard. It’s simple, really. If the Cards blow the game against San Francisco (and it will be anything but easy), the Saints-Bucs game means nothing anyway.
“If we don’t win, that would really be a crying shame,” Arians said.
– One last note on the missed chance the Falcons had to knock off the 49ers. Arians cracked he was asleep when the final interception happened to cost Atlanta at least a chance to tie. He watched it later on video. “I like the fact Smitty was playing for the win,” Arians said of Falcons coach Mike Smith and the pass play at the end.
– The Cardinals had their last practice of the season Friday. Maybe. “I’ve been in a bunch of these, where the last one counts,” Arians said. “You don’t know what is going to happen Sunday. This team has a chance to make history and that’s all we have talked about all week.”
– The local chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association handed out its two annual awards Friday. Center Lyle Sendlein was given the Steve Schoenfeld “Good Guy” award for being always accessible and insightful with the media regardless of the situation. Linebacker Karlos Dansby received the Lloyd Herberg MVP award. Both awards are named after former Arizona Republic Cardinals writers whose lives were tragically cut short.
– A reminder: Cards are wearing red-on-red Sunday.
– The roof will be open for the game.
– In the weekly video about officiating that the league sends out, VP of officiating Dean Blandino explained the confusing first-and-20 situation in Seattle after an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Cardinals. A flag was thrown on defensive end Frostee Rucker. The penalty was for verbal abuse of an official. A normal unsportsmanlike penalty would be marked off and then the first-and-10 chains set – normally making it first-and-10 at the Arizona 10-yard line. When the penalty is against an official, however, the chains are set and then the penalty is marked off. So the Cards had a first-and-20 at their 10.
– In their last nine meetings against the 49ers, the Cardinals have a whopping 28 turnovers and have never won the turnover battle. That’s why they have lost eight of them (and the one win, the Cards had three turnovers, the Niners zero.) The Cards must take better care of the ball.
– The Cardinals did not play great that day in San Francisco back in October, but were left with the feeling of a missed opportunity. That’s been an underlying theme this week.
– Here’s hoping the Cards have found out how to quell tight end Vernon Davis, who beat them up pretty well the first time around (8-180-2). “
– I am interested to see what it is like in University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday. This game has been sold out for a while. The Cards have a chance to win 11 for the first time in Arizona, playoffs or no playoffs. This is a rivalry. “If we could only win two games the whole season, I would pick both to be the 49ers,” Fitz said this week, and this is a chance to get one.
Until Sunday …
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Buccaneers, Dean Blandino, Falcons, Josh McCown, Nate Poole, Saints, University of Phoenix stadium, Vernon Davis
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Patrick Peterson didn’t see Michael Crabtree the first time the Cardinals and 49ers played. Crabtree was rehabbing a torn Achilles he hurt during the offseason. But Peterson is very aware of Crabtree, whom Peterson once called one of the the top wide receivers he had faced. Crabtree has returned to the field, playing in the last four games and slowly working his way back into the San Francisco offense — and he’ll be sitting there, waiting for Peterson Sunday.
Crabtree has 16 catches for 255 yards and a touchdown in those four games, and Peterson has been watching. “I still feel (he’s one of the best I’ve played),” Peterson said. “He has big-play ability receiver that adds a new dynamic to the San Francisco offense. He’s comfortable with (QB Colin) Kaepernick and Kaepernick is comfortable with him. Monday night he made a bunch of big catches and put up a lot of good yards.
“It seems like he is slowly getting back into game shape, slowly getting back into the groove of things. He looks to me about 85 percent now and coming back off that type of injury of course you are going to come back a little sluggish, a little slow trying to make sure you get the feel back. I’m quite sure the competitor he is, he’ll be back in the groove soon.”
The “85 percent” comment, which Peterson delivered a version of during a conference call this week with San Francisco reporters, is what has caught the attention of many. (Bruce Arians said something similar, by the way.) Crabtree had his way with Peterson last season — Peterson did cover him the vast majority of the time in two meetings — with 13 receptions for 244 yards and four touchdowns. If Peterson has had cornerback kryptonite as he has established himself as a top cover man, Crabtree has been it. How that matchup comes down Sunday will be intriguing, both on a micro-level between the two and a macro-level of how it will impact the outcome.
Peterson emphasized again he thinks Crabtree is an excellent player. Whether the 49ers try and get the ball more to Crabtree — who had five catches for 102 yards against Atlanta Monday – to “prove” to Peterson Crabtree is indeed 100 percent remains to be seen. There is no question both Peterson and Crabtree have enormous confidence in their own abilities. That’s what will make this so fun.
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Peterson
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Tags: 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, NFL, San Francisco 49ers, University of Phoenix stadium
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Go … Lavonte David?
In case you missed it last night — and I’m sure most of you didn’t — the 49ers beat the Falcons to clinch a playoff berth and eliminate the one opportunity left for the Cardinals to control their own postseason destiny. The Falcons almost posted a miracle finish, scoring a touchdown to pull within three and then recovering the onside kick and driving deep into San Francisco territory. Then this happened. And the Cards’ hopes were kicked right in the wrong place.
(And as a quick aside, I had no problem with the Falcons passing. Ryan was shredding the Niners in the fourth quarter with the pass and there, you are playing to win, not to settle for a field goal and overtime.)
So that leaves one playoff scenario for Arizona. Beat San Francisco at home, first of all. Second, the Cards must hope the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go into New Orleans and knock off (or at least tie) the Saints. Sure, the Saints are favored by a whopping 12 points. Sure, they are 7-0 at home with an average margin of victory of more than 17 points. Hey, the Bucs only lost by two to the Saints earlier in the season (in Tampa, and the Saints are a totally different team on the road.)
The NFL, into drama as it is, moved the kickoff of the Saints-Bucs game from an early to a late game, meaning the Cardinals’ chances will be riding along in parallel games with the 2:25 p.m. kickoff. Otherwise, the Cards might have known they were eliminated before they even took the field. I can’t see how Bruce Arians and his guys won’t be scoreboard watching in this case.
It’s about winning 11 games now for the Cardinals, and as Arians said, letting the chips fall. But the Cards have come within less than two minutes of two monumentally needed outcomes this weekend before being punched in the face twice — the Panthers were on the verge of a loss before Cam Newton threw a game-winning TD pass with 23 seconds left, and NaVarro Bowman’s game-changing interception last night was with 1:28 on the clock — and those chips are landing exactly where the Cards do not want them. One chip left to play.
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Buccaneers, Falcons, NaVarro Bowman, playoffs, Saints
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Bruce Arians does not want to talk playoffs. Not yet.
“Somebody asked me once if I’m scoreboard-watching,” Arians said. “I said, ‘Yeah. First down, second down, third down and how much time is left on the clock. I’m calling plays. I’m not looking at who is winning and who is losing.”
But I am not Bruce Arians. So, as many have asked about, here are the playoff scenarios and, realistically, what the Cardinals are looking at going into these final three games. Win just one and it’s over. Win three and the Cards (8-5 right now) might still need help.
If there is a tie with the 49ers for the sixth spot, the 49ers (9-4) would win the tiebreaker. Head to head wouldn’t matter, since the teams would split (the Cardinals can’t afford to lose the finale), and the 49ers in that scenario would win the second tiebreak, winning percentage in the division (San Francisco would be 4-2; The best the Cards can finish in the division even if they win out is 3-3.) With the Niners already a game up in the standings, that’s not the team the Cards probably can catch.
The Panthers (9-4) are a slightly different story. With the head-to-head edge, the Cardinals need to just catch them in the standings. Carolina has a one-game lead; they are home against the Jets and Saints before finishing on the road at Atlanta. The Cardinals, of course, play at Tennessee, at Seattle and home against the Niners.
This is, of course, assuming the Eagles (8-5) win the NFC East and don’t drop behind Dallas for a wild card scenario, since they have the head-to-head tiebreak on the Cards. (If you want to see every single step in the tie-breaking procedures, click here.) UPDATE: And the way I read the tiebreaks, the Cards would lose out in a three-way tie with SF and Carolina.
Bottom line? Every loss is crippling. And wins might not be enough.
“I remember, 2008, 24 years old, (making the postseason) and I’m thinking this is something that is going to happen a lot,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “There are no guarantees in this business. When you have an opportunity you have to make the best of it and we have an opportunity right now. I think everyone in this locker room understands if we win out, we’re going to be in the playoffs. Simple as that.”
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, playoffs
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The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.
Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).
(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.
Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.
There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.
Tags: 49ers, Colts, defense, Eagles, Rams, schedule, Seahawks, Titans, Todd Bowles
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Tags: 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, Carson Palmer, Monday Night Football, NFC West, NFL, Percy Harvin, Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks, Seattle Seahawks, St Louis Rams
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Tags: 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, Patrick Peterson, San Francisco 49ers, Twitter
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The last four times the Cardinals have gone to San Francisco, it didn’t go particularly well. Even the oldest of those visits, the 2009 Monday night game in a season when the Cards would win 10 and make the playoffs and Kurt Warner was the quarterback, the Cards melted into a mess of turnovers in a disappointing loss.
Yet that game was also the last time weren’t just playing out the string by the time they got to Candlestick. The Cards were in the middle of a division chase back then, and – even though we’re just five games into the season – the same holds for Sunday.
So begins the toughest two-game stretch of the season for the Cardinals, this weekend’s visit to San Fran, with the Seahawks awaiting a Thursday game in Arizona a few days after. Well, I suppose the back-to-back might not be the toughest alone, since the Cards have to play in Seattle and then home against the 49ers the final two games of the season.
(Yikes, oh ye schedule gods.)
But this week will determine the Cards’ spot in the pecking order. A split, and the Cards can still talk NFC West. Two losses, and it’s a lot tougher. (We won’t talk about sweeps yet. Let’s see what happens in Frisco first.) The NFC isn’t top-heavy this year so far. The Cards could be a third-place team and still make the playoffs. But if they can get into Candlestick and topple the opponent for the first time since 2008 – the Super Bowl-bound Cards opened the season with a 23-13 win in SF – well then, it’ll quickly get interesting.
– Andre Roberts said the offense has been simplified heading into the 49ers game, and that seems to fit what is expected to be mostly rock-em-sock-em. Bruce Arians said the Cardinals aren’t changing their offensive goals – “You find reasons why and why not and try to fix them,” Arians said of his offense – but it did sound from QB Carson Palmer that he’s going to do what it takes not to put the Cards in bad positions this weekend.
– Still, the Cards are going to need to score points. This lack of execution the Cards have had, the bugaboo that Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts and Rob Housler all mentioned in some way, shape or form this week, has to change. Quickly. That’s the only way you are beating a team like the Niners.
“We know what to do (offensively) but not why we are doing it and sometimes that lack of continuity shows up,” Arians said.
– Speaking of offense, Candlestick was the site of Michael Floyd’s best NFL game, grabbing a bunch of passes from Brian Hoyer in last year’s finale en route to eight catches for 166 yards and a score. Floyd hasn’t had more than five catches in a game yet this season, but he does have 301 yards and has played well.
– In three wins, the Cardinals’ defense has not allowed a point. The only second-half score against the Cards in those three games was a pick-6 Palmer threw against Detroit.
“I think it’s just about playing hard and guys settling down in the game,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We just need to start faster than we have been starting.”
– Cardinals tight end Jim Dray knows 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Dray was at Stanford when Harbaugh came in and resuscitated a struggling football program. “It’s just a culture shock when he came to Stanford,” Dray said. “He completely changed the culture and the attitude. It really brings the team together. That’s the biggest thing, he brings the winning culture.”
– In Anquan Boldin’s first game in the NFL, he had 10 catches for 217 yards and exploded on to the NFL scene. A decade later, in his first game for the 49ers to open this season, Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards, making a pair of impressive NFC West debuts.
“The biggest difference was we got the win this time,” said Boldin, whose muffed punt return helped Detroit beat the Cardinals way back when during Boldin’s first NFL game. “For me that’s all that matters. I’ve been through the whole putting-up-stats, breaking this record, doing this and that. My only goal right now is just to win and win championships.”
– Said Fitzgerald of his friend Boldin, “It’ll be weird to see him over there. This is probably only the second time in my career I’ve rooted against him … but we need this game more than they need it.”
Fitz has only played against Boldin one other time, a 2011 game when the Cards lost in Baltimore. Boldin had seven catches for 145 yards.
– And no, I don’t particularly believe Boldin when he says this is just another game. I don’t think the fire burns in him for this organization the way it once did, not now that he’s won his Super Bowl, but I’d be stunned if this didn’t mean something extra to him.
– Earlier this week, Arians said he’d talk to Colts coach Chuck Pagano, after the Colts handled the 49ers in San Francisco this season. Then again, the Niners shifted their game after that one and started running more. The Cards will have to stop the run, and we’ll see where it goes from there.
– I know Fitz said he loves Candlestick for the history — Jerry Rice played there, and Fitz has a fondest for the greatest receiver of all time, because he’d like to get there some day — but really, I’m not sure how many people are really going to miss it. I know I won’t. One more trip there.
Tags: 49ers, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Bruce Arians, Chuck Pagano, Jim Dray, Jim Harbaugh, Michael Floyd, NFC West, Seahawks, Todd Bowles
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