49ers-Cardinals: Frank Gore, Defense Shuffle Way To Division Win Over Cards

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 14:  Running back Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This was a game that had to make San Francisco 49ers' head coach Mike Singletary smile from eye to eye.

Monday Night Football commentator Mike Tirico summed up tonight's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals well, calling it "just one of those nights."

If you're talking NFL football, "just one of those nights" is a phrase that usually carries vastly different meanings for the teams involved, and tonight was no exception.

For the San Francisco 49ers, it was a night they'd like to remember and hope will propel them further along their journey to reestablishing the organization as a flagship NFL franchise and an yearly contender in a once again top heavy NFC.

If you're an Arizona fan, you have to believe tonight's performance was an anomaly.

With an opportunity to secure consecutive NFC West Division titles for the first time in franchise history, the Cardinals came up short.

However, Arizona remains in control of its playoff destiny, needing a pair of wins in the last three weeks to capture a spot in the NFL's postseason tournament.

San Francisco running back Frank Gore played his best game in weeks, Michael Crabtree had his best showing in over a year and the 49ers' stifling defense likely had head coach "Samurai" Mike Singletary reminiscing his days with the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Coming off of a three-game slump in which he ran for just 117 total yards, Frank Gore put on a Pro Bowl worthy exhibition en route to 167 yards on 25 carries and the game clinching touchdown.

The story of the night, though, was Arizona's seven turnovers—the most by an NFL team this year since Carolina's seven giveaways in Week One—including five forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions thrown by Kurt Warner

The 49ers hadn't forced as many turnovers in a game in over 12 seasons.

San Francisco's defense, led by safety Dashon Goldson, pressured Warner throughout the night, denying him a touchdown pass for the first time all season, and the Arizona Cardinals' normally reliable playmakers, including Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Tim Hightower, and Beanie Wells, simply could not protect the football.

So, what does this mean for the 8-5 Cardinals? 

A season ago, they limped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record before getting behind Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin on the way to an unprecedented Super Bowl run.

Arizona came into the 2009 season with high expectations and they are still in contention to secure consecutive postseason berths for the first time, though they will need to quickly recover from tonight's moribund performance.

Teams are permitted to have occasional stink fests and NFL history shows that most Super Bowl champions have a blemish or more on their regular season resume, but playing poorly in the last month of the regular season does not bode well for a team with title aspirations.

Following tonight's lackluster showing and the Philadelphia Eagles' dominant Sunday night performance, the Cardinals do not look much better than a team on its way to a first round playoff exit.

While they may be a long shot to qualify for postseason play, San Francisco's players played with a level of pride that is best described as Singletary-esque, and that is not a marker of a team not looking forward to making January travel plans to the Caribbean just yet.