Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
For Cardinals fans, by far the most frustrating thing about the first half of the season has been the lack of discipline and consistency shown by the team.
In spite of their record, the Cardinals have actually played some exceptional football. In many games, they have been ahead for periods of the game, and even when behind, have kept many games very close, but time and again, the Cardinals have not shown the ability to decisively close out games.
They tend to fall apart, especially in the fourth quarter. They give up far to many sloppy, avoidable penalties. They seem to abandon successful defensive coverage schemes, and offensive play calling in favour of disappointing, lazy, half hearted defense, and ineffective, predictable offense.
Put simply, they do not play four quarters of football. Often, they manage a half, occasionally three quarters, but rarely have they looked solid through all four quarters of the game.
Even their two recent wins—games which could, and perhaps should, have been have been put to bed much sooner, and more decisively—were allowed to come down to the final few plays of the game.
Against the Rams, only a valiant field goal block allowed the Cardinals to win in overtime, and against Philadelphia, multiple missed opportunities early, and mistakes later, allowed an Eagles team which were firmly outplayed in every phase of the game, to actually lead for much of it.
Against a 49ers team which look every bit as good as their record suggests, this simply will not cut it.
The Cardinals will need to play better than they have all season on both sides of the football, and will need to do it for a full 60 minutes of football.
They simply cannot give up avoidable penalties. They must maintain the same level of intensity throughout the whole game.
They face a 49ers team who can punish teams for each and every mistake, so the Cardinals must not give them the chance to do so.
Interceptions, safeties, fumbles, penalties and lapses in concentration—all things which have cost the Cardinals all season—simply cannot be allowed to creep into the game. The 49ers can, and will, make them pay for any of these things.
This is a 49ers team which will make a real run at the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals cannot, and must not, hand San Francisco any more ammunition than they already have with which to take them out.