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A Difficult Start

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 Defensive end Antonio Smith recovers a fumble Monday night during the Cardinals' 20-17 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO – The "Monday Night Football" question is always the same: Are you ready for some football?

For the Cardinals, some parts of their game were. Some weren't.

And in the end, that allowed the San Francisco 49ers to score the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left Monday, leaving the Cards with a season-opening 20-17 defeat.

It was a loss that hurt. But the ultimate message afterward was that it better not hurt for long.

"We can sit around and pout," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "This is over with. We have to get focused on Seattle. If we sit here with mood swings and act like it is the end of the world, then we will have our (butt) handed to us next week."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt's debut looked like it might end with a storybook finish, with a win on national television.

It was ruined by the 49ers' 86-yard touchdown drive. And it left the Cards with plenty to clean up going forward.

It starts at quarterback. Matt Leinart threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin in the fourth quarter and had a career-high 20-yard scramble on the drive for a key first down. But Leinart admittedly struggled most of the game and looked uncomfortable doing so.

Leinart completed just 14 of 28 passes for a mere 102 yards, with a touchdown and an interception on the first offensive play of the season. His passing rating was a dismal 41.1 after throwing a second pick on his final play.

"I am very disappointed with the way I played," Leinart said. "We're not going to win football games if I play like that."

The running game was pretty good most of the game. Running back Edgerrin James found the renewal he had promised, running for 92 yards and surpassing Tiki Barber for 17th on the NFL's all-time rushing list.

But when the Cards needed to run the ball late, they could not, much to Whisenhunt's chagrin. Four James runs late in the fourth quarter gained just three yards, leading to a punt that gave San Francisco a final chance.

The defense too was improved as promised; San Francisco running back Frank Gore did little damage (55 yards on 18 carries) and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith never was truly effective (126 yards passing).

At least, until the end.

At their own 14 with 2 minutes, 58 seconds left and trailing 17-13, Smith directed the 49ers downfield, the biggest play being Smith's 25-yard fourth-and-1 scramble to put the ball on the Arizona 20.

Then, facing a third-and-13 at the Arizona 23, Smith hit Arnez Battle at the 1, but as Battle turned for the end zone, the ball popped out. Cornerback Eric Green tried to jump on the apparent fumble but the ball squirted loose in the end zone, where San Francisco's Darrell Jackson fell on it.

At first, it looked like it might be an incomplete pass. But inside two minutes, the review had to be called by the officials.

"I asked them (if they would review it)," Whisenhunt said, "but they said it was a catch."

Afterward, Green was still was lamenting his missed opportunity.

"If I just knock it out of bounds, the game is over," Green said. "That's all I can think about right now."

Instead, the 49ers got the ball at the 1 (the only offensive player who can advance a fumble in the last two minutes is the man who fumbled) and Battle took the ball in for a touchdown on an end around on the next play.

"This hurt worse than any loss I have ever taken," Green said.

Now, the Cards must regroup.

"You can't put this on nobody," Dockett said. "We lost as a team.

"At the end of the day, this is about wins and losses."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net

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