Wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) and the Cardinals are looking for a win in San Francisco Sunday.
SAN FRANCISCO – Larry Fitzgerald recounted some of the games his Cardinals had played against the 49ers over the years, the ones that came with so much buildup.
Burned into his memory are plays like Sean Morey's long catch-and-run in 2007 in overtime, when the Cardinals receiver was shockingly pulled down from behind by 49ers then-rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, only to have a subsequent missed field goal lead to a San Francisco win.
The intensity never fades from year to year.
"If we could win only one game in the division, it would definitely be the 49ers," the wide receiver said. "That's just the way it's
been around here for years. It's going to be the toughest game."
The first chance at that comes Sunday, when the Cardinals (3-2) visit Candlestick Park for the final time against the 49ers (3-2). Next season, the 49ers move into a new stadium in Santa Clara, and the Cards would like nothing more than to find a way to jab the home team a final time in their current abode.
It'll be interesting how it unfolds. The 49ers, for the first time since quarterback Colin Kaepernick caught fire down the stretch last season, have reverted back to being a mostly running team. Kaepernick, struggling with his passing, threw just 15 passes last week against the Texans – completing only six – although the Niners dominated in a win.
"We're not a ground-and-pound team and by any stretch don't want to be," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "That's not my style, but that's theirs. You better have you big boy pads on or else you're going to get crumpled."
The rhetoric hasn't crept up to the same proportion in the past. The surge of the Seahawks has taken a lot of the attention of the 49ers. But the Cardinals still see the 49ers – reigning NFC champions, after all – as a rival that changes game week.
"Everybody says it's just another game but if you've been here for history, it's not just another game," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "It's a game where you have to put your big-boy pads on. It ain't going to be no arena football. It's going to be man up, and they are going to test your will. That's what they do. And it's a division game. We've played some good teams, but this is the best team, most talented team we have played by far on every level."
Said 49ers tackle Joe Staley, "It's always a heated game, especially in the trenches."
The Cardinals will see their season shaped in a lot of ways over the next week. After the San Francisco game will be a Thursday night home game against Seattle, the two powers not only in the division but arguably in the entire NFC.
The Seahawks are 4-1 and host Tennessee Sunday, so their first-place spot will likely be solidified while the Niners and Cards play. The Cards aren't looking at Seattle yet.
"We understand the road to winning the NFC West goes through San Francisco," Fitzgerald said.