Believe it or not, but for the second time this season the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals will meet to determine last place in the NFC West.
This time however, the final outcome will seal the divisional standings.
Last month, it was the 49ers who bested Arizona 27-6 to keep their playoff hopes alive. But with both teams tied for last place at 5-10, Sunday’s winner will end the season on a positive note, while the loser takes home a better draft pick as a parting gift.
The matchup should be intriguing to say the least.
The 49ers have dismissed head coach Mike Singletary and named defensive line coach Jim Tomsula as his interim replacement. With questions circling the organization as to who will serve as general manager and head coach in 2010, there’s no wondering about the 49ers intentions this Sunday at Candlestick Park.
They want to win.
Both teams do for that matter. The rivalry between the 49ers and Cardinals has only intensified over the past few seasons. And now with both teams eliminated from the postseason, they’ll look to show their disdain for one another in a season-ending affair.
Since quarterback Derek Anderson suffered a concussion in a Week 13 loss to St. Louis and rookie Max Hall suffered a season-ending shoulder separation in the same game, the Cardinals have relied on fifth-round pick John Skelton the past three weeks.
Because of the turnover at quarterback, coupled with a struggling running game, the Cardinals offense has been inconsistent to say the least. They rank 31st in rush offense, pass offense and total offense.
Skelton, the first NFL quarterback from Fordham University, is 2-1 in his starts and has completed 46-of-101 passes for 570 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Last week Skelton had his best game against the Dallas Cowboys, engineering a come-from-behind field goal drive to win 27-26 on Christmas night.
At the most crucial junction of the game, he completed a 26-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald on a fourth-and-15 to keep the game alive. It was also Fitzgerald’s first catch of the game, extending his streak of catching a pass in 101 straight games. Fitzgerald has surpasses the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth-consecutive year (1,012), but will likely fall short of the 90-catch benchmark. With 79 catches on the season, he’d need to catch his uniform number’s (11) share of passes to make it four-straight 90-catch seasons.
Rookie wideout Andre Roberts led the Cardinals with five catches for 110 yards against Dallas, which included a 74-yard touchdown reception. Roberts saw more playing time than Steve Breaston, who has battled injuries this season to catch 43 passes for 692 yards.
Inconsistent play has also hampered Arizona’s ground game. Beanie Wells has never claimed sole possession of the starting running back gig. He’s totaled 381 yards on 111 carries, while versatile running back Tim Hightower leads the team with 706 yards on 141 carries. Wells has averaged 3.4 yards per carry and two touchdowns to Hightower’s 5.0 average and five-touchdown output.
Paving the way for the running duo has been easier for the Cardinals offensive line then protecting the quarterback. The offensive line has given up 44 sacks on the season which is tied for the third-most allowed by any team in the NFL. To their credit, Arizona’s line has fared better in the run game, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, which ranks tied for eighth in the league.
With a banged up linebacker unit in recent weeks, the Cardinals have struggled mightily against the run. Starting with the 49ers 261-yard rushing performance against them four weeks ago, Arizona has been vulnerable. Since, they’ve given up 102 yards to Rams running back Steven Jackson, 137 yards to Panthers running back Jonathon Stewart and 183 yards to the Cowboys last Saturday.
And while the 49ers haven’t announced a starting quarterback for the season finale, running backs
On the year, the Cardinals rush defense ranks 30th in the NFL, allowing 148.2 yards per game. They’ve given up 4.4 yards per rush and have given up 119 first downs on the ground.
Nine-year veteran Paris Lenon leads Arizona with 120 tackles, which is 34 more tackles than the Cardinals second-most proficient tackler, cornerback Greg Toler.
Both Toler and fellow cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned interceptions for touchdowns last week against the Cowboys to give the Cardinals a 14-0 advantage.
The scores put Arizona at 12 returns for touchdowns on the year. They need one more to tie Seattle’s NFL record set in 2003.
Two of the Cardinals most opportunistic players happen to be their starting safeties. Strong safety Adrian Wilson has 84 tackles to go along with two interceptions, while free safety Kerry Rhodes leads the team with four interceptions to go with 87 tackles.
Neither came up with turnovers in the team’s first meeting however. It was cornerback Mike Adams who intercepted
The Cardinals do have the return record to try and attain, but ultimately, the win over a prideful 49ers squad is what’s most important.
Now it comes down to who wants to finish the season out in style.