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Against Niners, Playing It Safe

Posted Dec 8, 2011

Notebook: Avoiding turnovers key; Doucet overcomes drop; Beanie limited

Forty-Niners linebacker Patrick Willis returns in interception last month as Levi Brown (75) and LaRod Stephens-Howling go to make the tackle.

With the 49ers beating the Cardinals five straight times – and the last four by blowout scores – the Cardinals understand what lies at the root of the issue.

Turnovers.

“We have to give ourselves a fighting chance,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

The Cards haven’t done much of that in the San Francisco losing streak. They have not turned the ball over fewer than two times in any of the games, there was a seven-turnover mess in San Francisco in 2009 and another five turnovers on the road trip there late last month.

It’s little wonder the last four games have been by a lopsided total score of 112-29.

The 49ers have built their 2011 division title on turnover differential; San Francisco is a stunning plus-18 this season. In the first meeting this season, the Cards’ defense played well but couldn’t hold up against the wave of turnovers in a 23-7 loss. The 49ers had only one turnover in that game.

“If you look at the disparity for and against, that’s what really gets to you,” offensive coordinator Mike Miller said. “You know you can’t make those mistakes.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the losing streak itself doesn’t matter as the next game arrives – “You can lose 50 in a row and then kill them,” he said – but Fitzgerald added the Cards want to play smarter and with matching intensity, because the losing to the 49ers is getting old.

“Eventually, you have to stand up and fight,” Fitzgerald said. “Five in a row, enough has to be enough at some point. For it to be a rivalry, you have to beat them sometimes, and sometimes they’re going to beat you. We have to reclaim homefield. They’ve beaten us here the last two years and that’s not supposed to happen.”

DOUCET’S DROP

It could have been devastating.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb threw the perfect pass to wide receiver Early Doucet that would have picked up a first down at the Arizona 20-yard line -- except Doucet dropped the third-down throw, forcing a punt from the Arizona 9 and giving Dallas an excellent chance to move into game-winning field goal range.

The Cowboys did get into range but missed the field goal, and after the overtime win, Doucet’s drop was forgotten. And it was forgotten by Doucet even sooner than that.

“I was more mad at myself than anything,” Doucet said. “My coaches and teammates know that is out of character for me. They knew it wouldn’t affect my confidence. It was behind me the next time I was on the field.

“I definitely wanted to have that one, but we found a way to win and it made it a little easier on me. If we would have lost I think it would have sat with me a little longer.”

BEANIE BACK TO LIMITED

Running back Beanie Wells, nursing knee, hamstring and thumb injuries, returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. The only other change to the Cards’ injury report was the upgrade to full practice (from limited) by defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who has a sore quadriceps.

The 49ers are not expected to have linebacker Patrick Willis (hamstring) Sunday – although the Cardinals continue to think there is a chance Willis plays – although cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) is expected to play.

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