Safety Antoine Bethea returns an interception when the Cardinals played the 49ers last month. The teams meet again Sunday.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It was barely a month ago the Cardinals played the 49ers in the first of their annual NFC West home-and-home.
It might have well been a year ago.
The quarterbacks were Carson Palmer and Brian Hoyer. The Cardinals' running back was Chris Johnson. Markus Golden was still rushing the passer across from Chandler Jones. Not anymore.
That game was won in overtime, 18-15, by the Cardinals when Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a dramatic touchdown pass after the 49ers had taken a lead. Since then, Palmer (and Golden) got hurt and went to injured reserve. Hoyer was released, as was Chris Johnson. Adrian Peterson arrived to shoulder the Cardinals' running game.
What hasn't changed is that the 49ers (0-8) are still looking for a win and the Cardinals (3-4) – coming off their bye -- have a game they need to win to remain viable at their halfway point in the season.
"We haven't had the consistency you'd want over the course of the year," Fitzgerald said. "We are right here in
the race. We can get right back in this thing but it will take everyone playing their best to do it."
That'll start at the quarterback, where Drew Stanton takes over. Ever since Palmer got hurt in London two weeks ago, Stanton has been showing both confidence and self-awareness. He understands he is not Palmer, and is a backup for a reason. There will be difference in the offense, he said, because there has to be.
"This game is so hard if you are being false with who you are, because that gets exposed quickly," Stanton said. "If you get outside of your comfort zone, you're not going to play the way you are capable of. Early on in my career I might've tried to do too much or do different stuff, but a lot of this is being able to adapt and learn."
The Cardinals are expected to turn back to Peterson for help. After rushing for 134 yards in his first game as a Cardinal, he had just 21 on 11 carries in London, and coach Bruce Arians said he knows he needs to use Peterson more. Peterson said he's tried to make explosive plays in practice, 30- and 40-yard sprints, so that coaches will see that on the daily film as a reminder what he can do.
"It's up to us up front," Peterson said.
The 49ers have their own quarterback issues, among other problems. They traded for quarterback Jimmy
Garoppolo, but all week coach Kyle Shanahan has insisted while Garoppolo will dress as a backup, he will not play if it can be helped. Rookie C.J. Beathard is the starter, playing behind a bad offensive line that got worse when Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley suffered an eye injury last week.
Cardinals defenders still believe Garoppolo will play, but it makes little sense to throw in the new QB. Winless, it's not like the Niners can salvage a playoff spot, although Shanahan wants to get a victory at least to prop up team morale.
"We put a lot into this, and we haven't won a game yet this year, and that takes a toll on everybody," Shanahan said. "You come in and you're pretty down on Monday. But, you've got to be honest with each other. You've got to show it on tape. You can't hide from your problems. … I believe we go into every game by Sunday believing that we have a chance to win that game."
The Cardinals still believe that too. They need to get much better on defense, although a game against a struggling offensive team like the 49ers could help a unit that has tumbled to among the NFL's worst in scoring defense and third-down defense.
The Cardinals also have to find an urgency Fitzgerald said was absent following the loss to the Rams in London. The veteran was asked if the Cards have found it yet.
"You're not going to be able to tell if you found it until you line up and play," Fitzgerald said. "Sunday about 5 o'clock, I'll let you know."
Images of some key players on the 49ers in advance of Sunday's game