TEMPE, Ariz. — It would be a better story had anyone on the Cardinals proclaimed this week that, yeah, the San Francisco 49ers are a bad team Arizona should have little trouble beating.
But that was not the case. Not at all.
Though the Cardinals are 8-2, which paces the NFC West, and the 49ers are 3-7, which puts them in the division’s basement, there was not a sense that this game will be won by showing up.
“It’s the Niners. It’s the Niners,” head coach Bruce Arians said when asked if he’s worried about the team’s intensity against a lesser opponent after two prime time victories. “We haven’t beaten the Niners very often, so they’re still the Niners.”
The thing is they’re not the Niners, at least in the way they used to be.
Once one of the NFC’s premier teams, a coaching change as well as defections of key players have left the organization as a shell of its former self.
San Francisco enters this game last in the NFL in yards and points per game, and is in the bottom of the league in pretty much every relevant defensive category.
They are a bad team, but as Arians said, they are also a team Arizona has little success against over the years.
Including their meeting earlier this season, which the Cardinals won 47-7 in Glendale, Arizona has beaten San Francisco just three times in their last 13 meetings. The last time the Cardinals knocked off the 49ers in San Francisco, George W. Bush was still president of the United States.
That the Cardinals have not gone on the road and beaten the 49ers since 2008 — the season in which the team reached Super Bowl XLIII — is something that the players were reminded of all week.
“Oh yeah, most definitely,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “I was still in high school when that happened, but history even says we haven’t won up there so that’s our main goal.”
“I’ve won there one time in my long career,” said defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who was a rookie in 2008. “So this is going to be another tough task. The games in November are very important. This is how you set yourself up for the playoffs, every game is critical. Especially, division games are very critical.”
A win over an NFC West opponent would go a long way toward cementing Arizona’s standing as the season goes into its stretch run. A loss would be equally damaging, and as Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said, teams like the 49ers can be especially dangerous because they have little to lose.
The last thing Arizona wants is to allow their rival to play spoiler, and there’s an understanding that it’s a distinct possibility if they don’t play well.
Trap game? There may be no such thing.
“You’ll get beat by anybody,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “You looked at St. Louis’ record when we played them, we were rolling at that time, and they dumped us. It doesn’t matter where you play or who you’re playing against, those guys, at the end of the day, their payroll is the exact same as our payroll, those guys get paid the same week we get paid. Everybody you play has got great players and you’ve to go out there and play a good 60 minutes to win.”
For the most part, the Cardinals have been very good at taking care of business this season. Oddly enough, one of the knocks against them — at least before their victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals — was that they had built their sterling record by feasting on the league’s lesser opponents. While that wasn’t necessarily inaccurate, there is something to be said for a team not suffering a letdown and falling to a less-talented opponent.
Coming through again Sunday would not only give the Cardinals their ninth win but slay a demon that has haunted them for far too long.
“Coach, he really wants this one — we all do,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “It would be huge. It would be a big step forward for this organization as far as being on top with these guys.
“These fools, they’ve been killing us the past couple years so it’s time for us finally be on top when it comes to beating these Niners.”
Some stories for pre-game reading
Bruce Arians’ ‘no risk it, no biscuit’ approach works because he trusts his players.
Running back David Johnson admits what we already knew: Linebackers have trouble covering him.
Markus Golden, slated to start in place of the injured LaMarr Woodley, says there is always time to get better.
As Craig Morgan writes, the 49ers’ fall has been stunning and swift.
The Cardinals are being hunted, and that’s exactly how they want it to be.
Here are five things Cardinals fans should be thankful for.
Veteran Red Bryant is excited for his opportunity with the Cardinals.
-Just four times in franchise history have the Cardinals won nine of their first 11 games to start a season. A win Sunday would give them five along with be the first time they have done so in back-to-back seasons.
-With a win Sunday the Cardinals would tally at least five road wins in a single season for the first time since 2009, when they won six games away from University of Phoenix Stadium.
-The last time the Cardinals posted three consecutive winning seasons was 1974-76. A win Sunday would ensure their third in a row under Bruce Arians.
-Larry Fitzgerald needs one catch Sunday to move into sole possession of 12th place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list, as he is currently tied with Randy Moss at 982.
-Carson Palmer is three touchdown passes away from tying Kurt Warner’s franchise record of 30 in a single season, which was set in 2008.
-The Cardinals have had at least one 100-yard receiver in six consecutive games against the 49ers, with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd each reaching the mark three times.
-Perhaps Arizona’s quarterback situation is one of the reasons for struggles in San Francisco, where the Cardinals have had little consistency when facing the Niners on the road. Since their last road win in the series, their QBs have been: Kurt Warner (2009), John Skelton (2010, 2011), Brian Hoyer (2012), Carson Palmer (2013) and Ryan Lindley (2014). Richard Bartel also saw some snaps in 2010 and 2011.
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- Keim Time: Three positives, little else for Cardinals in loss to Texans