Cardinals still in playoff hunt as they battle ailing 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals meet up at a familiar setting when the NFC West rivals duel on Saturday afternoon in Glendale, Ariz.
The rematch of a 24-20 Arizona win in Week 1 has far more significance for the Cardinals (8-6), who remain in the running for an NFC playoff spot, than the 49ers (5-9), whose bid to repeat as conference champs officially ended with last week’s loss at Dallas.
Both teams will be playing on the State Farm Stadium field for the third time in the last four weeks, with the 49ers having been forced to relocate from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., because of COVID-19 restrictions in the region.
The 49ers have lost their first two neutral-site games in Arizona, beaten in Week 13 by Buffalo 34-24 and then a week later by Washington 23-15.
The 49ers were thumped 41-33 at Dallas last week, and lost far more than just a game that eliminated them from playoff contention. Top running back Raheem Mostert has been ruled out for the season after aggravating a high ankle sprain in the loss, while quarterback Nick Mullens suffered an elbow injury that the 49ers fear could require Tommy John surgery.
Regular starter Jimmy Garoppolo has returned to practice after suffering an ankle injury against Seattle in Week 8, but San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan noted that he’s unlikely to get medical clearance to return to game action either this week or in the finale against Seattle, another game that will be played in Arizona.
“(He will play) only if the doctors told me it’s 100 percent safe and he feels good, and I’d be very surprised if that happens,” Shanahan reported. “Right now, he’s safe to go out to practice. It’ll be fun for him to throw the ball around a little bit, but we’re going to be very safe with him this week and we’ll see next week. But I’d be very surprised if that changes.”
Shanahan wouldn’t name a starter for the Arizona game as the practice week began, but by process of elimination, the last man standing appears to be C.J. Beathard, who came on in mop-up duty in Dallas and threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne on the final play of the game.
The 49ers have since gone out and plucked veteran Josh Rosen off the Tampa Bay practice squad to serve as Beathard’s backup.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, will take the field in third place in the NFC West, two games behind Seattle (10-4) and one back of the Los Angeles Rams (9-5). Arizona visits the Rams next week.
The Cardinals can clinch a wild card this weekend with a win over the 49ers and a Chicago (7-7) loss to Jacksonville (1-13).
Kyler Murray kept Arizona in a favorable position when he threw for a season-best 406 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 33-26 home win over Philadelphia.
But like the 49ers, the Cardinals didn’t escape the game unscathed. Veteran wideout Larry Fitzgerald strained his groin and star linebacker Haason Reddick injured his shoulder in the win, leaving both a bit iffy for the San Francisco game.
Murray, who rushed for 91 yards but threw for just 230 in the earlier loss to the 49ers, warned not to overlook a prideful opponent.
“Good team,” he insisted. “They’ll be ready to go, obviously. It’s a divisional game. It’s going to be very competitive.”
–Field Level Media