Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
49ers, Cardinals wage costly duel

By Mike Sando

Michael Crabtree
The San Francisco 49ers put together their best effort of the season Monday night, but the victory turned out to be a costly one.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A fractured right hip forced Frank Gore to use crutches Monday night as he departed University of Phoenix Stadium following the San Francisco 49ers' 27-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

This qualified as a graceful exit after Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson stormed from his postgame interview session amid repeated questions about camera shots showing Anderson and Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui laughing on the sideline after the game was out of reach.

It's unlikely Anderson was laughing off the Cardinals' sixth consecutive defeat, but the sideline images did beg for context.

"Every single week I put my freaking heart and soul into this!" Anderson said. "I study my ass off. I don't go out there and laugh. It's not funny. Nothing's funny to me! I don't want to go out there and get embarrassed on Monday Night Football in front of everybody!"

The reporter again pressed for more details. Anderson was vague. The reporter tried again, seeking context for the sideline laughter.

Anderson offered one final answer before storming out.

"I'm done!"

At 3-8, so are the Cardinals. They made a strong case Monday night for an offseason roster overhaul, fumbling away their first snap and watching helplessly as San Francisco outgained them 261-13 on the ground.

The 49ers might be finished, too, after losing Gore to an injury that almost certainly will end his season. They put together their most dominating performance of the season in all phases of the game, improving to 4-7 while moving within one game of first place in the NFC West.

If only they could play Arizona every week instead of just one more time -- way down the line in Week 17, and only then after a stretch featuring road games against Green Bay, San Diego and St. Louis.

Brian Westbrook's surprising 23-carry, 136-yard performance behind an offensive line already missing left tackle Joe Staley showed the 49ers' resiliency and the Cardinals' futility.

"To say that I'm extremely disappointed would be an understatement," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Arizona's Derek Anderson
Derek Anderson and the Cardinals managed just 203 yards of offense against the 49ers.
The 49ers kept pounding away effectively after losing center David Baas to a concussion and right guard Chilo Rachal to leg cramps. They earned the right to savor a dominant performance even though the bigger picture appeared more troubling.

"Words can't explain how I feel about what the offensive line did," quarterback Troy Smith said. "When our unquestioned leader goes down, you definitely feel some type of sorrow about what's going on, but we had to keep pressing on."

That will be easier for the 49ers than it will be for Arizona. A trip inside the Cardinals' locker room is a journey in soul-searching. There's a lot more searching than finding.

Receiver Steve Breaston, the type of player organizations build around, sat on a stool before his locker and rambled.

"So, um, like, like I said, I think, like, I'm ready, I'm just sick of losing," Breaston said. "Right now, I said I wasn't going to talk about it, but I'm rambling so I really can't like, ever since I got here and I have never been a part of something like this ..."

At the other end of the locker room, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Darnell Dockett spent what seemed like 10 minutes putting on his tie and adjusting his collar using his one good arm. A shoulder injury has dogged Dockett recently. He's also noticed opponents stepping up their games against him now that Dockett has a Pro Bowl on his résumé and a lucrative contract.

"I'm so frustrated, I don't even know what to say," Dockett said.

Late in the second quarter and with the 49ers already leading 21-6, Dockett raised his hands to the crowd, imploring them to rain noise upon the 49ers' offense.

There was no response.

The 49ers, having lost Gore, handed off to the 31-year-old Westbrook. Rachal, the right guard, has struggled for the 49ers this season, but he turned Dockett outside and sent the Cardinals' best defensive player spinning face first onto the grass. Westbrook charged through the line for 6 yards and a first down.

It was that kind of night for the two-time defending NFC West champs. It's been that kind of season, too. They made the 49ers look like contenders. Of course, any NFC West team coming off a victory qualifies as one. The 49ers can get to 7-9 and give themselves a decent shot at the division title by winning their remaining games against NFC West opponents: vs. Seattle (Week 14), at St. Louis (Week 16) and when the Cardinals visit Candlestick.

"We can't think about the division, the conference, any of that," Westbrook said. "We have to focus on Green Bay and trying to get a win."