When Arizona and San Francisco met in the season opener, the Cardinals’ high-powered offense was out of sync and the 49ers’ passing game was an afterthought.
This meeting will probably have an entirely different look.
Led by a surging offense, the Cardinals look to clinch their second straight NFC West title Monday night when they visit a 49ers team featuring a new passing attack.
Arizona (8-4) rode its prolific offense to the Super Bowl last season, but that unit never got in gear in a 20-16 loss to San Francisco (5-7) in Week 1. Kurt Warner(notes) completed 26 of 44 passes for 288 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the Cardinals’ second-lowest scoring game of the season.
“We’re just not meshing,” Warner said after that defeat.
The Cardinals have rarely had that problem in winning four of their last five.
The potent offense featuring Warner, Larry Fitzgerald(notes) and Anquan Boldin(notes) was on display in last Sunday night’s 30-17 win over NFC North-leading Minnesota. Warner threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns, Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 143 yards and a score, and Boldin had seven receptions for 98 yards and two TDs.
“It’s a middle-of-the-season game and it doesn’t have a lot of bearing in the big picture, but it gives you confidence moving forward to think that we can play with anybody,” Warner said. “We can play with the big dogs. The key for us is to show up like that every week.”
The Cardinals need one more victory to clinch the West. The franchise hasn’t won back-to-back division titles since taking the NFC East in 1974 and ’75.
Warner, who missed a 20-17 loss at Tennessee on Nov. 29, has passed for 1,089 yards with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions for a 133.2 rating in winning his last four starts. He has 19 TD passes and two picks in the eight wins.
Similar to the Cardinals, the 49ers’ offense has also taken to the air.
Alex Smith, who started the season on the bench before being named the starter in late October, completed 27 of 45 throws for a career-best 310 yards with two touchdowns in last Sunday’s 20-17 loss to Seattle.
Smith’s career day was ruined by a plethora of mistakes, and the 49ers suffered their sixth loss in eight games.
“In every situation, we just found a way to screw it up,” coach Mike Singletary said. “Teams that talk about going to the playoffs can’t do that.”
Smith continued to shine in the new spread offense. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft has thrown for 769 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception in his last three games. The 49ers, who opened with Shaun Hill(notes) as the starter, averaged 175.6 passing yards in their first nine games.
With the emergence of this new air attack, the 49ers have virtually abandoned their running game.
San Francisco passed the ball on 21 of its first 24 plays against the Seahawks, and Frank Gore(notes) rushed nine times for 25 yards. Gore has run for 117 yards with no touchdowns in his last three games after rushing for 278 and three TDs in his previous three.
The 49ers tried to run the ball in the season opener, but the Cardinals limited Gore to 30 yards on 22 attempts. San Francisco now gets to face an Arizona defense that’s coming off one of its best performances of the season.
The Cardinals sacked Brett Favre(notes) three times, increasing their total to 35— tied for third-most in the league. Constantly under pressure, Favre, who had thrown three interceptions through 11 games, was picked off twice.
Arizona also held Adrian Peterson to a season-low 19 yards on 13 carries.
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