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Staying Focused

Cardinals, 49ers don't want to be distracted from greater goals

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San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers breaks up a pass for Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald when the teams met last month.


Early Doucet shrugged off the idea of the rematch between he and 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, after the two scuffled three weeks ago the first time the Cards and Niners met and Goldson was ejected.

"I'm not worried about that -- that's far gone," the wide receiver said. "We have to play football at the end of the day so I'm not going there. That's pretty much it."

The Cardinals (5-7) want to stay focused Sunday in their annual hosting of the Niners for a lot of reasons. They know any play beyond the regular-season finale Jan. 1 remains a longshot, although winning out – not unreasonable, given the way the defense has played – would give them a remarkable 9-7 record given their start and hope.

Besides, the 49ers (10-2) clinched the NFC West title last week and there is always a possibility of a letdown, although the Niners insist that won't be the case.

"You darn sure better (stay focused), that's for sure, or you'll get your butt kicked," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "That's about as fundamental as anything I know in professional football. I'm not a psychologist, but I think our guys understand how important this is."

San Francisco does need to keep winning to maintain the NFC's No. 2 seed, a first-round bye in the postseason and an edge over No. 3 New Orleans, which is powerful at home.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said he doesn't expect the 49ers to lose their chance at the No. 2 seed, noting that when the Cardinals clinched so early in 2008 the top seeds were nearly out of reach and "we obviously didn't handle it very well."

That season, the Cards lost their next two games – both in blowout fashion – after clinching the division.

Losing focus because of the division is one thing. The 49ers also have won five straight and have blown the Cards out in the last four, including last month's 23-7 rout in San Francisco.

"I've been on teams that were 2-10, 2-14, and we've beaten whatever is supposed to be one of the better teams in the league," San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith said. "As players, you never buy into that. You know they're professionals."

The Cardinals are arguably a different team just since then. They will be different at quarterback, with Kevin Kolb instead of John Skelton. The defense, which did play well in the first meeting, is playing even better.

The Cards are playing the Niners on a two-game winning streak, just like last time, but it isn't the same.

"We have a lot more confidence now, even though we had won a couple of games before we went in there," Whisenhunt said.

Confidence is one thing, but fundamentals are another. The Cardinals turned the ball over five times in San Francisco (compared to just one by the 49ers that day) and know they can't afford to do it again. As well as the defense has played, if the 49ers have possession for more than 44 minutes again – their staggering total in the first matchup) – the offense has to play much more efficiently.

The 49ers won't do anything spectacular. They wait for mistakes and then take advantage.

"You have to be calculating risks because they thrive on turnovers and field position," Kolb said. "They know their style of football and it has worked for them so far. Hopefully we can take them out of that."

"It's about assignments individually and executing the game plan," said Doucet, who had noted after the first loss frustration affected how the Cards played in the second half. "We can't turn the ball over. We have to be sound in our technique. We have to play hard. May the best team win."

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