Sticking With the Starters

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The discussion was brief. In fact, it wasn't much of a discussion at all – the decision was that simple.

Although Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals has no bearing on the postseason, the 49ers never thought about giving the young guys extra snaps. Make no mistake, this is a game the team wants to win.

Interim coach Jim Tomsula made that crystal clear during his introductory press conference Monday. He reiterated it when he spoke to the media Wednesday, and coordinators Mike Johnson and Greg Manusky echoed the same sentiment on Thursday.

"We're going to approach the game and play the players with the best chance to win," Johnson said. "We're not going to go in there and play players at the expense of winning a football game. We're going to go in there with the approach of playing the best possible players that give us that best possible chance."

That stance motivated the players, not that they needed extra juice to play hard against a division rival this weekend. But it reaffirmed what they all believe. They want to finish the season with as much intensity as they started it.

"That's exactly the mindset everyone in this locker room has," linebacker Manny Lawson said.
"Although the season didn't finish the way we wanted it to, we still have our jobs to do.

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"A lot of times you hear football players say that we take the season one week at a time, and it's true. Our only focus this week is beating Arizona."

And the young players on the team understand this. As much as they want to play this Sunday, they've wanted to play as much every game this season.

They understand the coaches' decision, and frankly, wouldn't expect anything else.

"The philosophy can't change this week, and guys' roles on the team can't change either" rookie safety Chris Maragos said. "The coaches didn't need to tell us that. We expected that the starters would still see their share of the reps, and the rest of us just have to stay prepared."

Although the young players will continue to watch most of the game from the sidelines on Sunday, they might learn just as much as they would on the field.

While the game might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, the intensity and dedication the veterans continue to demonstrate shows those young guys the right way to play the game.

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"Everybody has taken a professional approach to this week, and that rubs off," Maragos said. "When you see  guys like Takeo Spikes and Nate Clements who have been playing for so long and they're still giving it all they have, that's a teaching moment right there."

But if the 49ers play the way they did last time out against the Cardinals, a 27-6 victory in Week 12, those young guys just might get the opportunity they want to showcase their skills.

And it's not just the most recent edition of this rivalry that tilted in the 49ers favor. San Francisco has won the past three meetings with Arizona, and it's a trend they want to continue.

The run game is what powered the 49ers in that game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Frank Gore was sidelined with a fractured hip midway through the first quarter, but Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon filled in admirably helping the team to rack up a season-high 261 yards on the ground.

Now the question becomes, can the 49ers do it again?

"That's the plan," Dixon said.

Equally as important in that mid-November win was stopping the Cardinals' ground game.

The 49ers held Arizona to just 13 rushing yards on the night, but that's nothing new in this rivalry. In two games last season Arizona was limited just 62.5 rushing yards per contest.

The defense pointed to several factors that have led success against the Cardinals.

For one, they get hyped up to face their biggest rival. Also, they match up well against the Cardinals' personnel and schemes. But perhaps the biggest reason for the defense's success is the familiarity with Arizona.

"There are a lot of guys on both teams who have been around for a while, and that helps," Lawson said. "We know what they like to do, we know their tendencies and we're going to try to stop them again."

The "we" Lawson referred to were the starters.

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Spikes Honored Again**

On Thursday, the San Francisco Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America presented linebacker Takeo Spikes with the Garry Niver Award, which  is presented annually by the to a 49ers player for his cooperation and professional style in helping the media do its job. The award is named after pro football writer, Garry Niver, who was a long-time beat writer who covered the 49ers for the San Mateo Times.

Despite the team's struggles Spikes continued to maintain a friendly, working relationship with the media and he never shied away from the tough questions.

"I appreciate it. It's a big honor," Spikes said. "I always pride myself in doing the little things right. It's not necessarily for attention, but just because I feel it is the right thing to do because of my principles. It's rewarding when somebody else notices that and says, 'We appreciate you.'"

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