We are in December and the Cards continue to play their best football of the year. Arizona won 21-19 on Sunday to beat the NFC West Champion 49ers, who lost for just the third time all year. After starting the year off 1-6, they now have won 5 of their last 6 to improve to 6-7 and still alive in the NFC wildcard race. Now, it will still take a lot of work, but back to back wins against Dallas and San Francisco have given this team enough confidence to feel like they can beat anyone. They have Cleveland up next, followed by Cincy before they finish the season off at home against the Seahawks. If they can win out, they would stand at 9-7 and would have a head to head win over Dallas which could come into play. Chicago is falling off the map with injuries to Cutler and Forte, Detroit has struggled after a red hot start, and Dallas is going through their typical December swoon. Arizona isn’t it out of it yet, but they need to keep winning.
As for the game Sunday, it wasn’t how you would expect the Cards to win a game. They lost the turnover battle 3-0, and even trailed by double digits in the 2nd half. Kevin Kolb left the game early in the first with a head injury and Beanie Wells was essentially a non factor. What they did do was pressure Alex Smith, bringing him down 5 times. When Alex Smith is running for his life, he is mostly the ineffective QB we have seen so much in the past. He completed less than half of his passes for 175 yards. He was kept out of the end zone, and in true game manager fashion he threw zero interceptions. It has been enough for much of the year, but they couldn’t score enough to support the defense in this one. A big reason why was the lack of carries for star RB Frank Gore. He was limited to 10 carries, which was apparently because he wasn’t at 100%. He racked up 72 yards and a TD in those limited carries, so it is likely a bit lucky for Arizona that Gore couldn’t take bigger load.
On the offensive side of the ball, John Skelton was forced in very early in the game. Kolb managed just one pass before taking a blow to the head that forced him out of the. Skelton was much of the turnover prone QB we have seen earlier in the year, as he threw two INTs and a fumbled the ball once. That is not much of a surprise considering the dominance of the Niners defense, especially in turnover margin. The big surprise is how he was able to air it out for some big plays and huge scores. He had a 60 yard score to Doucet, a 46 yard score to Fitzgerald, and added a 3 yard strike to Andre Roberts to put the team up for good. He finished with 282 yards in the air, and Fitzgerald had perhaps his best game of the season with 7 catches and 149 yards. Very impressive performance from Skelton, considering the defense he was playing, his struggles just a few weeks ago, the lack of help from the running game (Wells had just 27 yards, Skelton managed 25 himself), and that he was forced into duty early in the first quarter.
Like I said earlier, Arizona stands at 6-7 now, and have a decent shot to reach 9 wins this year. They are 4-2 at home on the year, and have 2 of their last 3 games at home to finish off the season. Next up is Cleveland who is really struggling lately. They have lost 6 of 7 and stand at 4-9. They have done a good job at stopping the pass, but that is about it. Peyton Hillis is back, so their running game should improve and will be a decent threat. Colt McCoy took a brutal hit from James Harrison last week and seems unlikely to play this game with a concussion. Seneca Wallace should be the starter, but that may even be an upgrade. Either way the QB situation in Cleveland isn’t exactly intimidating. With how well Arizona is playing, this shouldn’t a problem for them, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.