The 49ers and Cardinals look to bounce back from embarrassing defeats and avoid falling any further out of first place in the NFC West when they meet for the first time this season Monday night in Arizona.
Many picked San Francisco (3-7) to win the West prior to the start of this season after the Cardinals (3-7) won the division each of the previous two years, but neither is looking much like a playoff contender.
The 49ers, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002, opened with five consecutive losses and are coming off last Sunday’s 21-0 defeat to Tampa Bay. San Francisco managed a season-low 189 yards and 11 first downs - two via penalties - in getting shut out at home for the first time since 1977.
“It was a big setback,” coach Mike Singletary said. “We expected to come out here and play well. We did not.”
Arizona also didn’t play well in last Sunday’s 31-13 loss to Kansas City, its fifth consecutive defeat. The Cardinals got their only touchdown, a 3-yard catch by Larry Fitzgerald(notes), on the final play of the game.
“We are not really a confident team right now,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think it’s a natural human emotion when you’ve lost five in a row and you’ve lost some of the games the way we have. It’s definitely something that plays into it. This game is about momentum. It’s about confidence and we don’t have a lot to base positive things on here lately.”
Despite all of San Francisco and Arizona’s problems, they are just two games back of first-place Seattle in the West.
Troy Smith(notes) will be making his fourth straight start at quarterback for San Francisco despite coming off a shaky performance against the Buccaneers. Smith, who is replacing a healthy Alex Smith, was sacked six times and completed 16 of 31 passes for 148 yards with an interception. He threw for 552 yards on 29 of 47 passing with two touchdowns in his first two starts.
Smith also didn’t get much help from a virtually non-existent ground game.
Frank Gore(notes) finished with a season-low 23 yards on 12 attempts after averaging 114.0 yards rushing in his previous four games. Gore lined up against a Tampa Bay defense which was ranked 31st against the run and will be facing an Arizona run defense that is 28th in the league at 135.1 yards allowed per game.
Gore has had success against the Cardinals, averaging 101.6 rushing yards with six total TDs in his last five matchups. He rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 24-9 win over Arizona on Dec. 14.
The 49ers swept the season series from the Cardinals in 2009 and are seeking their first three-game winning streak in the series since 2003-04.
Arizona, in the midst of its longest losing streak since an eight-game skid in 2006 led to the firing of coach Dennis Green, is in danger of finishing below .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt.
“This is getting old,” said Derek Anderson(notes), who has seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions. “We’ve just got to find a way, dig deep, continue to keep working the way we have been working.”