The NFL’s Week 7 seems like a long time ago.
The Arizona Cardinals began it with a Thursday night win over the New Orleans Saints to move their record to 3-4 in the first game for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins following a six-week league suspension.
The 49ers were trounced by Kansas City 44-23 to fall to 3-4, and both teams were a half-game behind the idle Rams (3-3) and one behind the 4-3 Seahawks. Arizona had lost to Kansas City 44-21 in the season opener.
The last 10 weeks illustrate how quickly things can change. The Rams lost their next six games and fell out of contention. Seattle is 8-8 and has a shot at a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
That sets up the regular-season finale Sunday for the Cardinals and 49ers, two teams that have gone in opposite directions. The 49ers (12-4) got healthier and have won nine straight. A win over the Cardinals, coupled with an Eagles loss to the playoff-bound Giants, would give San Francisco the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
On the other side of Levi’s Stadium Sunday will be the Cardinals (4-12), who started just eight of their 22 projected starters in last Sunday’s 20-19 loss to Atlanta. They have lost six consecutive games and eight of their last nine.
The Cardinals reached 20 points only once in their current losing streak and will play David Blough at quarterback, breaking a streak of four consecutive games in which they have started four different signal-callers: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley and Blough.
When asked if he is at the point where he wonders what else can go wrong this season, coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “I was there about eight weeks ago. We’re past that point.”
As to giving more snaps to young players, Kingsbury said, “With all the injuries, some of those evaluations have happened organically. I don’t even know who else we could evaluate at this point.”
Aside from the offensive line getting healthy and defensive end Nick Bosa (17.5 sacks) putting himself into position to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the 49ers were jump-started by the trade that added running back Christian McCaffrey on Oct. 21, which occurred two days before their loss to the Chiefs.
A team built around the running game and strong defense, the 49ers have continued to win with seventh-round rookie quarterback Brock Purdy (the final pick of the draft) under center.
Purdy took over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 4. In that game plus four starts, he has completed 66.0 percent of his passes for 1,196 yards, 10 touchdowns, just four interceptions and a passer rating of 101.4. The 49ers have scored 35, 21, 37 and 37 points in the last four games.
In last Sunday’s win over the Raiders, he led the 49ers on a drive that put them ahead with 2:17 remaining in regulation and then another that ended with a missed 41-yard field-goal attempt by Robbie Gould that sent the game to overtime.
“It was hell of a drive there at the end right before we went to overtime, just going down there and taking a seven-point lead,” San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He made some huge plays on that drive. There was a couple he missed early in the game, but it didn’t faze him at all. He kept coming and battling back and played good enough for us to win.”
Since coming to San Francisco, McCaffrey has rushed for 701 yards (4.7 per carry) with six touchdowns and has added 49 receptions for 430 yards (8.8 average) and another three scores. He did suffer what was described as a mild ankle sprain in the game against the Raiders, according to Shanahan, and did not practice Wednesday, while also dealing with a knee injury.
Others not practicing were guard Aaron Banks (ankle/knee) and linebacker Dre Greenlaw (back).
For the Cardinals, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (knee) will not play, while running back James Conner (shin) is considered day-to-day after being injured against the Falcons. The Cardinals had a walkthrough Wednesday and had 10 players listed that wouldn’t have practiced and six limited. That’s 30.2 percent of the 53-man roster.
–Field Level Media