Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Arizona Cardinals' decision to start Kurt Warner at quarterback made all the difference during a 23-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at Candlestick Park.
Warner wasn't perfect, but he secured the ball much better than he has in the past, and he continually made quick decisions in turning potential negative plays into first downs. His experience was everything for the Cardinals in this game.
Once- and future Cardinals starter Matt Leinart cannot offer the same qualities to a team at this stage of his career. Neither can new 49ers starter J.T. O'Sullivan, who played reasonably well under the circumstances but will need time to grow into the role.
O'Sullivan flourished for stretches early in the game. The 49ers showed they can compete with him at quarterback when Frank Gore is running effectively. Warner prevented Gore and the 49ers' offense from enjoying sustained success by leading two third-quarter scoring drives that used up more than 11 minutes. Warner then led an 18-play, 10-minute drive to a field goal late in the fourth quarter. Immature teams do not finish games that way.
The Cardinals can challenge for a playoff berth in the NFC if Warner plays the way he did against the 49ers. They also have to like the way Edgerrin James and even rookie Tim Hightower produced key short-yardage pickups in the ground game.