A honeymoon start to the 2021 season left the Cardinals unbeaten through seven games, with folks pondering whether the NFL's best team resided in Arizona.
Ahead of Sunday's matchup with the 49ers (3-4), the Cardinals are no longer the No. 1 seed in the NFC after losing to Green Bay last week. Quarterback Kyler Murray is a game-time decision with an injured ankle. DeAndre Hopkins is battling a bad hamstring and A.J. Green is unlikely to play Sunday after recently testing positive for Covid.
Adversity is finally knocking on the Cardinals' door. The possibility of not having an MVP candidate under center nor its top wideouts available has the 49ers favored in the second divisional matchup between the teams this year.
"Everything was all flowers and daisies when we were 7-0," running back Chase Edmonds said. "But when you realistically look at the NFL, it's a week-to-week league, and everyone is going to hit adversity at some point in the season. Right now, we need to find a way to weather the storm and find a way to win this game."
There is good news: the Cardinals can regain the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a victory over San Francisco, if Kansas City defeats Green Bay. The Packers won't have the services of quarterback Aaron Rodgers after he tested positive for Covid.
Linebacker Markus Golden says he doesn't like depending on other teams to hold a particular seed. The veteran is only worried about what his team is doing.
"We're only focused on us," Golden said. "We had a great week of practice, and we have a chance to put ourselves in a great position. We're in control of our own destiny. That's the good thing when all you need to do is go out there and win. That's a position I would rather be in."
If Murray is not ready to play on Sunday, veteran Colt McCoy will make his first start since Week 15 last season. Going against the 49ers' fourth-ranked defense would be a challenging task, but the team has expressed faith in McCoy and his ability to lead the offense if needed.
The defense will face quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after facing rookie Trey Lance Week 5 at State Farm Stadium. Garoppolo is fresh off throwing for 322 yards with a passer rating of 100.6 last week when the Niners beat Chicago. Garoppolo will have one of his favorite targets back Sunday in All-Pro, George Kittle, who also missed the matchup earlier in the season.
"Jimmy is an experienced NFL quarterback," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "He's well-versed in the offense as far as making the right checks and making the right plays. And he's not stiff when it comes to scrambling."
Stopping the run game, however, remains the Cardinals' focus for limiting the 49ers' offensive attack.
The Cardinals have the fourth-best defense in total yards allowed but are giving up 120.1 rushing yards per contest. The 49ers' rushing attack ranks above Green Bay, who rushed for 151 yards against them last week.
"San Francisco does a great job with the run game," safety Budda Baker said. "They throw different things at you, and it's what ultimately helps them in their pass game. It will be a challenge."