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Gambo: Cardinals-49ers to battle for NFC West

And then there were two.

The NFC West is now officially a two-team race between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals made sure of that on Sunday with a convincing win over a pathetic Seattle team that couldn’t get out of its own way for much of the game. The victory by the Cardinals in no means officially eliminates the Seahawks from contention, but we don’t need anything official here.

Seattle is a bad team and Arizona exploited them in a dominant performance that dropped Seattle two games behind San Francisco and Arizona and with a loss to each on their record.

Seattle is done – put a fork in them.

The win also allowed Arizona to make a statement that they are still the team to beat in the West and shouldn’t be counted out as a threat in the conference. The Cardinals continued to play well defensively holding Seattle to 14 rushing yards, forcing seven 3-and-outs, sacking Matt Hasselback five times and limiting Seattle to 128 total yards.

Larry Fitzgerald finally had his breakout game with 13 catches and Kurt Warner proved once again that if you give him time there isn’t anyone better at reading a defense and finding an open receiver. The Cardinals still have issues — they can’t run the ball. Tim Hightower led the team with a whopping 32 yards on 13 carries. But running on this team may be overrated. This is a team predicated on passing the football and they will live and die with the pass.

While it would be nice to see this team show some resemblance of a running game its just not going to happen. Beanie Wells still looks shaky and Hightower is better suited to be a third-down back. In some ways the Cardinals high percentage short passing game acts as its running game — keeping the chains moving, eating some clock and keeping defenses off balance. These next three games will give us a better indication of how good the Cardinals are as they travel to New York to face the Giants, are at home to Carolina and go to Solider Field to face Chicago. That’s a tough stretch that may see them lose two games, but the schedule gets a lot easier after that and the matchup later in the season at San Francisco could be for all the marbles in the division. Arizona is playing much better now than they did in Week 1 and is much improved on the road as witnessed by wins at Jacksonville and Seattle so far this season. Plus San Francisco is no world beaters – they are a good but not great football team that showed a lot of weaknesses in last week’s loss to Atlanta.

Clearly the Saints, Giants and Vikings are the cream of the crop in the NFC right now. The Cardinals may not be considered a championship contender at this point of the season but they don’t have to be. There are plenty of games left for Arizona to find their rhythm, get in a groove and establish themselves. The win at Seattle is a step in that direction. And besides, as the Cardinals proved last year what matters most is getting hot in the playoffs. Not that getting there is going to be easy — San Francisco will challenge. Nonetheless the Cardinals are improving from week to week and Sunday put it all together to let the rest of the NFL know they are still here and make Seattle fans start thinking about next year.