Since the beginning of the Mike Nolan era in 2005, the 49ers and Cardinals have had an interesting history. The 49ers lost four straight to the Cardinals before winning both games in the series last season. The 49ers currently stand at 19-14 against the Cardinals all-time.
If you wanted one word to describe the last six contests, close would be the safest choice. The average difference in score was 7.67 points, and that's factoring in a 17 point Cardinals victory in the first of the six in 2005. Since then, neither team has won by more than a touchdown. Last season took the "closeness" to a whole new level with two wild finishes. As I will consider the first game in 2005 a "statistical outlier," I'm just going to look at the last five. I feel it creates just a bit more drama!
SAN FRANCISCO 37, @ ARIZONA 31 (Nov. 25, 2007)
The 49ers found themselves in the midst of an 8 game losing streak and the team looking absolutely abysmal. The 49ers had put up no more than 16 points in any of their previous eight games and while Frank Gore was being productive, he couldn't carry the team by himself. However, on this day, Gore put together 214 total yards and 2 touchdowns as Trent Dilfer had a bit of a throwback performance. Of course, the game will be remembered for the wild ending and Patrick Willis putting himself on the national map. After the 49ers took the lead late, the Cardinals drove down and a goal line stop (including a game-saving defensive effort by Donald Strickland) kept the Cardinals to a field goal.
In overtime, Kurt Warner connected with Sean Morey for what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown. However, Willis (in a play replayed over and over again) ran down Morey from behind to prevent the touchdown. Arizona positioned the ball for a game-winning field goal, which Rackers drilled through the uprights. Fortunately, a delay of game moved the ball back 5 yards and Rackers missed a 32 yarder. After a later booming Andy Lee punt and an illegal block in the back, Arizona started with the ball on their own 3. A Ronald Fields sack forced a Warner fumble, which Tully Banta-Cain pounced on for the heart-stopping victory.
at SAN FRANCISCO 20, ARIZONA 17 (Sept. 10, 2007)
Coming off a rather inspiring 2006, the 49ers were looking to start off the 2007 season with a bang. The young guns, Alex Smith and Matt Leinart, combined to throw under 50% and do everything they could to single-handedly kill Monday night ratings. The 49ers tandem of newly acquired Nate Clements and Pro Bowler Walt Harris looked sharp in holding Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to a combined 7 catches for 43 yards. Patrick Willis made his debut with an impressive 11 tackles, showing a sign of things to come.
However, the finish is what this game will be remembered for. With 2:58 to go, Alex Smith led the 49ers on 86 yard drive with a 4th down conversion followed by a 3rd and long conversion. The 3rd down conversion almost resulted in disaster as Arnaz Battle fumbled the ball on the 1 into the end zone. The ball was recovered in the end zone, but since the offense can't advance a fumble, the ball was spotted at the 1. Arnaz Battle redeemed himself with an end around for the game winning touchdown with 22 seconds left.
Check out the results of the previous three games after the jump....
ARIZONA 26, @ SAN FRANCISCO 20 (Dec. 24, 2006)
This game saw the 49ers fleeting 2006 playoffs squashed by Kurt Warner coming off the bench. Matt Leinart sprained his shoulder and Warner managed the game effectively for the second half. Alex Smith finished 18/29 for 190 yards while Frank Gore managed 86 total yards. After cutting the lead to six late in the game, the 49ers defense was unable to make any plays on the closing drive to force a punt. For those wondering for this season, Roderick Green had both of the 49ers sacks in this game, including the play that knocked Leinart out of the game. Let's hope for a couple more sacks from Green on Sunday.
at ARIZONA 34, SAN FRANCISCO 27 (Sept. 10, 2006)
The 49ers were coming off a less than stellar 4-12 season, while the Cardinals were once again predicted to do big things (yet again). They were opening their new space age stadium and were expected to roll the 49ers. The 49ers jumped out to the early 7-0 lead as Vernon Davis had 49ers fans buzzing with a touchdown in his first game. Within what felt like a few minutes, the Cardinals were up 21-7 behind a still-impressive Kurt Warner. The 49ers didn't give up as Frank Gore rushed for two touchdowns and finished with 170 total yards. In spite of this, turnovers and an inability to finish off late drives cost the 49ers as they eventually succumbed 34-27. It would be a bit of a microcosm for the eventual 7-9 season. They hung close but in the end couldn't close the deal.
ARIZONA 17, @ SAN FRANCISCO 10 (Dec. 4, 2005)
Alex Smith was thrown to the wolves in 2005 and while he had some decent performances, this unfortunately was not one of them. Smith finished the game 16 of 24 for 185 yards and 3 interceptions. While Kevan Barlow was still on the team, he missed this game and rookie Frank Gore led the team with 22 rushing yards. For those who have successfully blocked this team from their memory, we had the likes of Johnnie Morton, Brandon Lloyd and Jason McAddley (huh?!). The secondary was absolutely torched as Boldin and Fitzgerald combined for 19 receptions and 285 yards. Due to a lack of very few actual good players in the secondary, the 49ers were playing Shawntae Spencer, Keith Lewis Mike Adams, Derrick Johnson, Bruce Thornton and Ben Emanuel. Oh and returning kicks for the 49ers? Rasheed Marshall. I don't think much else needs to be said.