Bumbling Cardinals give away chance to clinch West
Talk about a turnaround. The Arizona Cardinals went from a prime-time triumph to a Monday night meltdown in a mere eight days.
The team that looked so powerful in a dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings saw any chance to clinch the NFC West in San Francisco slip through its hands - over and over again.
Seven turnovers, including five fumbles, doomed the Cardinals to a 23-9 loss.
``It's very, very hard to overcome that,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said Tuesday. ``The only thing I'll say positive about the game is that with 12 minutes left in the game we were down one score and we had the football. With five turnovers at that point, that's a testament to our ability to fight.''
However, on the first play of that crucial possession, running back Beanie Wells fumbled and Parys Haralson recovered for San Francisco at the Arizona 16. The 49ers scored and any comeback hopes evaporated in the San Francisco mist.
The Cardinals have long fought a tendency to let down after a big victory. It's safe to say that's still an issue.
``You keep hoping we're over these games where we're on a big high, we played great (against Minnesota) and kind of set the tone for ourselves,'' quarterback Kurt Warner said after the loss, ``and then come back and play a game like we did tonight.''
Warner, with poor protection from his offensive line, was intercepted twice, fumbled the ball away twice and was sacked four times. The line had allowed five sacks in the previous five games.
An MRI on Tuesday determined that All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a bruised bone and sprained right knee. Fitzgerald was hurt in the third quarter Monday night but returned for the final few minutes of the game. The Cardinals said in a brief statement that his status will be evaluated as the week progresses.
Backup safety Matt Ware did not have a torn ACL, as was previously feared, but Whisenhunt said it was uncertain when Ware might come back.
Neil Rackers aggravated a sore groin, and Whisenhunt wouldn't rule out the possibility of bringing in another kicker temporarily.
The players had Tuesday off. They return on Wednesday to begin preparation for Sunday's game at Detroit, Arizona's last road trip of the regular season.
The Cardinals (8-5) have a two-game lead over San Francisco (6-7) with three to play, but the 49ers have the tie-breaker because they swept Arizona this season.
``Last time I did the math, if we win two more it doesn't really matter what else happens, right?'' Whisenhunt said. ``If we take care of what's in front of us, then it doesn't make a difference.''
The schedule isn't exactly intimidating.
After facing the Lions (2-11), Arizona is home against St. Louis (1-12). The 49rs, on the other hand, play at Philadelphia (9-4) on Sunday.
But defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said another performance like Monday night's would bring another loss, regardless of the competition.
``That product we put on the field, we won't beat anybody,'' he said. ``I don't care if it's the 49ers or a team that hasn't won a game all year.''
Whisenhunt echoed Dockett's belief that the Cardinals simply beat themselves.
``If you put on the tape, we had our opportunities to make plays and we didn't make those plays,'' he said. ``That really changes the course of the game. If we don't fumble, if we don't give them those points early, sometimes in those situations it changes the way a game goes. I don't think it was as much them as it was us.''