Cardinals receiver Sean Morey is caught from behind by 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis during the 49ers' 37-31 overtime victory in Glendale last season.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't want anyone thinking that the Cardinals' two losses to a lowly San Francisco team were the reason the Cards missed the playoffs in 2007.
There was a two-point loss in Washington the Cardinals also could have won. There was a three-point loss in Baltimore.
"Any one of those games we could have won at the end could have made the difference," Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt's players, however, tend to skew toward the deadly duo against the 49ers.
"They kept us out of the playoffs last year, and we've been thinking of that all offseason," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We have a lot of motivation."
The games themselves unfolded quite differently, but left the Cardinals with the same painful result.
The first – as this year, in San Francisco as the regular-season opener – was on national TV. "Monday Night Football" was first billed as the battle between two young quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Alex Smith.
Both struggled, but the Cardinals' defense played well, and when Leinart hit Anquan Boldin with a touchdown pass and a 17-13 lead, Arizona was in a great spot. The 49ers got the ball on their own 14-yard line with less than three minutes left, and Smith led them on an improbable touchdown drive.
The Cards even had a shot to stave off the win when receiver Arnez Battle fumbled the ball at the Arizona 1 and into the end zone, but cornerback Eric Green couldn't corral the ball. The 49ers recovered, and while the rules said they had to put the ball back at the 1, the outcome was inevitable.
The second game in Glendale hurt more. A win would have given the Cards a three-game winning streak and a 6-5 record. The 49ers had been hapless on offense for weeks. But the 49ers managed to get 337 yards of offense had had a 31-28 lead with 1:15 left, stunning the crowd.
Quarterback Kurt Warner marched the Cards down the field for the overtime-forcing field goal. In overtime, a short pass to Sean Morey turned into a 62-yard catch-and-run, setting up a field goal. But a delay of game penalty denied Neil Rackers' first 27-yard make, and then Rackers shockingly missed a try from 32 yards.
Eventually, the Cards got the ball after a punt on their own 3. Warner was sacked, fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by San Francisco for a touchdown.
"It definitely lingers," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We let those two games slip away, and we just can't have those let-ups this year."
San Francisco coach Mike Nolan insisted that "every game is a new game." He wasn't even necessarily fazed with the unusual events surrounding the two 2007 contests.
"Unfortunately, I have been through those," Nolan said. "Then again, after 22 years in the NFL, you're going to have a few.
"I know Arizona felt they probably had every right to win but they didn't, and so would we if we had lost."
Defensive end Antonio Smith said because of last year's results, the opener for most of the Cardinals is personal. Cornerback Eric Green said the 49ers were the major stumbling block in the Cardinals' inability to get "over the hump" last year.
"We were 8-8 and we easily could have been 10-6," Green said. "It's always tough to lose. It was like the year before when we beat them twice. They took it personal and beat us twice. Now we have to do that." * * * Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 9/3/08.