Running back Edgerrin James picks his way toward some of his 100 yards rushing during Sunday's 23-13 win in San Francisco.
SAN FRANCISCO – As Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt stared up at the Candlestick Park scoreboard in the fourth quarter Sunday after the 49ers had cut the Cards' lead to seven, all Whisenhunt could think of was 2007.
More specifically, he could only think of his offense going on the field late in the "Monday Night Football" opener on the same field nursing a four-point lead – and then watching his offense fail to pick up a first down. The 49ers got the ball and stunned the Cards that night. The last thing Whisenhunt wanted Sunday was for the Niners to stun his team again.
He needn't have worried.
There were 11 minutes, 58 seconds on the clock when Whisenhunt first had his
thought, when quarterback Kurt Warner tossed a non-descript five-yard pass to tight end Leonard Pope. By the time Neil Rackers booted a 30-yard field goal to make the lead 10 again, there was 1:57 left in the game.
The Cardinals were about to own a 23-13 victory, and one of Whisenhunt's most crucial messages had been received by his players.
"Anytime you get a chance to do that, you want to do that, you need to do that," running back Edgerrin James said. "The way games can be lost in the last few minutes, it's kind of heartbreaking when you have a chance to finish it and you don't finish it, when you work all week and put in all that time … you hate to lose something like that.
"That's something we are aware of. The last couple years, we have experienced that."
The numbers, once the game was over, were stunning. How best to pull away in what had been a 10-10 halftime tie? Never let the 49ers have the ball.
First, turn to the pass. Warner had just 11 first-half passes. On the Cards' initial drive of the second half, Warner threw 10 passes (and was sacked looking to throw No. 11).
Then pooch kick it and have the 49ers fumble it right back to you. The Cardinals did that and then churned out an eight-play touchdown drive.
In all, the 49ers didn't get the ball until 4:03 was left in the third quarter. And they drove for a field goal.
That's when Whisenhunt had his flashback. That's when the Cards had their ultimate sequence of keep-away.
"I don't know how much time we took off," guard Reggie Wells said. "(Coaches) gave us a chance to run the ball today."
The game-clinching drive took 18 plays and sapped whatever life was left from the 49ers. There were 12 runs, six passes. The first three times the Cards had a third down, Warner hit Anquan Boldin for a first down.
On the final play, a third-and-10 from the San Francisco 14 with 2:10 left, James came up with two yards – his 26th carry for his 99th and 100th yard.
"Last year we were so good at throwing the football," Warner said. "This year, to be able to establish that line of scrimmage and dominate the line of scrimmage and hold the ball like we did, it was key. To be able to chew the clock and get first downs and get points, it is critical in games like this where it is a dogfight and close and you might not have your best stuff."
It is critical to
Warner talked about not finding a rhythm and the offense definitely gave a feel of a work-in-progress. Boldin came alive in the second half but Larry Fitzgerald all but disappeared. The Cardinals should have scored more points than they did.
Then again, the offense held the ball for a shocking 22:38 of the second half's 30 minutes. It was the ultimate in power trips.
The other stuff just felt like details after the game. The big deal was that the Cards finished, which they couldn't do just about one year ago in the same stadium.
"Having that feeling (of blowing it) makes you not want that feeling anymore," James said. "Makes you appreciate games like this.
"For this team, this is big-time."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 9/7/08.
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