If the Cardinals needed any more motivation for Sunday’s trip to San Francisco, they don’t have to look very far.
In their hands they hold the 49ers’ postseason fate. If the 49ers win, they clinch their second straight NFC West title, the first time since the Cardinals in 2008 and 2009 a team has won back-to-back West crowns, and a possible first-round bye.
If the Cardinals win, the 49ers would need the Seattle Seahawks to lose to the St. Louis Rams in order to capture the title.
While it’d be extra icing on their season-ending cake, playing spoiler isn’t the Cardinals’ primary objective this weekend.
“It wouldn’t matter if we were playing against them or if we were playing against whoever, we would like to have a win to finish out the season,” receiver
The Cardinals saw last season what kind of springboard a win in their season finale could provide. They beat the Seahawks, 23-20, in a game that didn’t affect the race for the West title, but they saw the residuals of that win carry into a strong offseason and a 4-0 start.
Spoiling the 49ers’ champagne celebration may not be the Cardinals’ only motivation for Sunday.
It’s the season finale. They’re a division rival. And they beat the Cardinals on “Monday Night Football.”
“We don’t like those guys,” linebacker Daryl Washington said matter-of-factly. “We’re playing up there. They beat us on Monday night … embarrassed us on Monday night. So we’re playing for a lot of reasons.”
The second time around won’t be any easier than the first because the Cardinals will face a different look from the 49ers.
Alex Smith, who led San Francisco into University of Phoenix Stadium on the last Monday in October and was nearly perfect against the Cards, was benched in favor of second-year Colin Kaepernick after 10 games.
The Niners are 4-2 with Kapernick and solidified a playoffs’ berth, but they’re hoping to ride the young quarterback to the West championship. A new face behind center adds another layer the Cardinals need to prepare for. Instead of concerning themselves with a quarterback who wasn’t very agile, the Cardinals now have to prepare for one who can hurt them two ways instead of one.
“It’s very different because both buys are athletic but when you have Kaepernick, who can run with his feet and could probably throw the ball a little better than Alex, it’s added pressure on us to stop him with his feet,” Washington said.
The champagne on New Year’s Eve will taste a bit sweeter if the Cardinals leave San Francisco with a win but it would taste even better if they could prevent their division rival from hanging another banner.
“It’s a division game but you’re going against the 49ers,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We understand what’s on the line. That always adds to it.”