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Week 17 Preview: Cardinals @ 49ers

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Season Records:

Cardinals: 5-10, 4th in NFC West, Last Week: W vs. Dallas, 27-26

49ers: 5-10, 3rd in NFC West, Last Week: L vs. St. Louis, 25-17

Gametime:

Sunday, January 2nd, 4:15 pm, EST, Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA

The End of a Long, Disappointing Road for the 2010 Cardinals:

There will be playoff questions answered this Sunday in the NFC West, but not for the Cardinals and 49ers.  Their questions have already been answered by perhaps equally disappointing seasons for both squads.  Countless experts tabbed the 49ers as the most likely team to have their division locked up by November with 12 wins finally within reach for the team by the Bay.  Obviously, that wasn’t how things turned out for the 49ers, who have won only 5 games and find themselves with a new interim head coach after Mike Singletary finally got the axe.  In the end, the Niners didn’t wait long, firing Singletary only hours after they were eliminated from playoff contention by the Rams last Sunday.  “Obviously we had expectations of being a playoff-caliber team this year,” team president Jed York stated.  “Whether we were a 7-9 division winner or not didn’t matter to me… I’m not sure when our players are going to be back next season, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t have a coaching turnover, coaching change going into (a potential lockout).” Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will take over for Singletary for at least one game.

The Cardinals knew they had a tough road ahead with so much change on the roster this year, but I don’t think they anticipated this kind of season.  Instead of dredge up a painful season review (which will certainly come after the season is over), let’s take a look at a few positives.  The Cardinals have won two of their last three, which means that John Skelton is 2-1 as a starter.  Skelton, however, hasn’t exactly gone out and won the games for his team; in three games his line reads: 46/101, 570 yards,  45.3 completion percentage, 1 TD, 1 INT, 62.7 rating.  Obviously nothing to write home about, but his game will improve drastically once he gets his completion percentage north of 55%, which unlike Anderson, Skelton will probably accomplish if given the proper time to develop.

Skelton’s work during the Cardinals’ game winning drive against the Cowboys on Christmas was particularly encouraging.  With less than two minutes to play Skelton drove his team down the field, converting on a fourth-and-15 from the Cardinals’ 19 on a 26-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald.  Skelton then hit fellow rookie Max Komar for 19 more yards, but an illegal formation penalty moved the ball back 5 yards.  Feely, who had a 49-yarder earlier, missed three kicks all season, including a 49-yard attempt Saturday night; Feely banged it through for the 27-26 win, making irrelevant the fact that the Cardinals blew a 21-3 half-time lead.

Despite his recent success, if John Skelton is to be the Cardinals starting quarterback next year he has a lot of work to do.  “We’re finding out a lot about our young players, not so much by design as it is by necessity,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.  “But it’s been a positive when you think back to the game and you see how many young guys made big plays.”  That’s what this last game is about for the Cardinals.  It’s one last chance to evaluate the young players on the roster before heading into the off-season grind.  Guys like Skelton, Komar, Andre Roberts, Daryl Washington, and Dan Williams, all of whom figure to be  a larger part of the 2011 squad.

Make no mistake, though.  Both teams want to win this game.  “We’re going to win,” 49ers’ interim head coach Tomsula said Monday.  “Let me make that clear.  That was something we talked about this morning. [team president’ Jed [York] made that very clear.  [Vice president of player personnel] Trent Baalke’s made it very clear — very, very crystal clear.” Nobody wants to end the season with a loss.


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