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Cardinals Have Chance At 5-0 Against 49ers

NFC West rival will have rookie Trey Lance in at quarterback

Quarterback Kyler Murray eludes the rush in the Cardinals' home game against the 49ers in 2020.
Quarterback Kyler Murray eludes the rush in the Cardinals' home game against the 49ers in 2020.

Justin Pugh has been down this road before.

He's played on teams that started well, and didn't finish. It happened most recently just last season, when the Cardinals were 6-3 and seemed destined to play in the postseason and in the end did not.

So it's understandable why the veteran cares little for the Cardinals' chance to go 5-0 for the first time since 1974 when they host the 49ers (2-2) in a second straight NFC West game.

"Obviously, starting 5-0 would be amazing," Pugh said. "But this is a long road. I've been on teams that start hot and don't make the playoffs. Tampa Bay started the season 7-5 (last season) and won the Super Bowl. So, it isn't about how you start, and we have to keep going into these games hungry."

Pugh declined to discuss the differences between the 2020 and 2021 rosters. Whether this year's team is better matters little; it's about avoiding the previous results.

"Hopefully, we've learned from that and continue to go out there and prove it," Pugh said. "Until we do, we're still that same team. Now we have to focus on San Francisco, who knocked us out of the playoffs as well."

The 49ers beat the Cardinals at the end of 2020 with a backup quarterback; they again will start a backup Sunday. Starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is out with a calf contusion, meaning rookie Trey Lance, the third-overall pick in the draft, will make his first NFL start.

The Cards did see two rookie quarterbacks last year have their best games in Arizona -- Miami's Tua Tagovailoa and Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts -- but two weeks ago, this year's defense stifled Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence to a passer rating of 20.0 with two interceptions.

Lance has flashed potential in limited snaps this season. He completed 50 percent of his passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns last week at Seattle when the injured Garoppolo left the game, although one was a 76-yard bomb to a wide-open Deebo Samuel when the defense blew a coverage.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, one of the most respected offensive minds in the NFL, will doubtless have a game plan to work for the inexperienced Lance, although the 49ers are without star tight end George Kittle, who went on injured reserve Saturday with a calf injury.

Still, defensive coordinator coach Vance Joseph is unsure how the division rival will use the new QB.

"He's talented," Joseph said. "He's big; he's fast; he can make every throw. He's played in packages… in the low red zone… on third downs. But we haven't seen him with a full game plan in four quarters. So, we can only guess what they're going to do with him."

A victory over the 49ers is not just about remaining the league's only undefeated team or increasing their lead in the toughest division in football. It's about taking another step in rewriting the outcome of last season, and the only way to do so is by taking the season one week at a time.

"I don't think anybody is complacent being 4-0," said A.J. Green, who was on the 2015 Cincinnati Bengals team that started the season 8-0. "Every week is 1-0, us trying to get the next win, and that's how we're looking at it."