LIVE Game Blog: 49ers vs. Cardinals

San Francisco's playoff hopes still are alive entering Sunday's regular-season home finale, and the 49ers will try to keep them that way against the Arizona Cardinals. SFI editor in chief Craig Massei will keep you up to date on the action with live reports and commentary from Monster Park. Make sure to refresh this page every 15 minutes for running updates throughout the game.

(12:30) The 49ers are resplendent in their 1989 throwback uniforms for the second time this season, and those cardinal red jerseys really do brighten up this drab old stadium. There isn't many people who wouldn't like to see the Niners wearing these unis full-time in the future, and that's something the organization will be thinking about during the offseason. The 49ers wore these uniforms for the first time back in early November, and that resulted in a 9-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that was the beginning of the team's rise that still has San Francisco fighting for a playoff berth in Week 16 …

(12:45) Just said hello to Eric Heitmann on the sidelines. He's looking good in a tan suit, even if he is on crutches and has a protective boot strapped to his right foot. His surgery went well to repair a broken tibia in his lower right leg, and he should be able to be back in action by the time minicamps roll around this spring. He's taking in a lot of love from well-wishers, and he's a guy that deserves it. Just to see him along the sidelines before the game is good news.

(1:01) The Cardinals call tails, and the coin lands heads. The 49ers will start on offense, and methinks that means will be seeing an early dose of Frank Gore …

(1:05) Neil Rackers is preparing to boot the opening kickoff for the Cardinals, and there's like, maybe 20,000 fans in the seats to see it. I know it's Christmas Eve afternoon and all, but that's pretty pathetic, even for San Francisco's notoriously late-arriving crowd. Maybe everybody was in the holiday spirit and just tailgating a little longer than usual out in the parking lot before heading into this concrete bowl …

(1:08) To the surprise of nobody, Gore takes a handoff on the first play from scrimmage. To the surprise of nobody, he busts it over the right side - OK, maybe that's a bit of surprise, since the 49ers like to run to the left so often - for 11 yards. On the next play, he goes for 15 yards to the left. This guy is an amazing stud, and just like that, he's only 54 yards from breaking Garrison Hearst's franchise record for most rushing yards in a season …

(1:12) Alex Smith hits Arnaz Battle for a 15-yard gain on San Francisco's third play from scrimmage as the 49ers rumble effortlessly into Arizona territory, but the drive quickly bogs down after a false-start penalty on tight end Vernon Davis. Joe Nedney comes in to try a 49-yard field goal, and he hits it poorly. The ball screams off his foot low and to the left, but this Nedney guy has touch on his kicks. The ball curves back as it reaches the goal posts and sails through - never getting more than about 25 feet off the ground. Niners lead 3-0 …

(1:17) Look at that. On Matt Leinart's first play against the 49ers, the rookie quarterback drops back and lets sail with a spiral deep down the left sideline. He's going for 49ers killer Larry Fitzgerald, but Shawntae Spencer is right there with the coverage. But Spencer makes a poor play on the ball as it arrives - or no play, really - and Fitzgerald snatches it out of the air. It goes for a 57-yard gain before Mark Roman can push Fitzgerald out of bounds. What a way to start for the Cardinals …

(1:20) Fortunately for the 49ers, Arizona coach Denny Green calls three consecutive runs into the line by halfback Edgerrin James. On third-and-1, James is stuffed for a 1-yard loss, forcing the Cardinals to settle for a gimme 25-yard field goal by Rackers after they reached the San Francisco 6-yard line. Nice stand by the San Francisco defense deep in its own territory, and it's a 3-3 game …

(1:35) That was just way, way too easy. The Cardinals march 64 yards down the field in eight plays to take their first lead. James has a few nice runs, including a 9-yarder to start the drive that makes him the first Arizona player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 1998. The big play is a second-and-7 from the San Francisco 19, when Anquan Boldin takes a short pass and breaks away from a tackle attempt by cornerback Walt Harris. Boldin takes it down to the 5, and Marcel Shipp strolls into the end zone untouched through a gaping hole. It's 10-3 Cardinals …

(1:39) Left tackle Jonas Jennings is down on the ground writhing in pain, something you see a lot of in 49ers game. And there he goes - helped off the field and into the locker room, where the early prognosis is a dislocated shoulder. Jennings barely ever gets through a game without getting hurt. Fortunately, Adam Snyder is back from the knee/ankle sprains that forced him to miss the past two games, and he takes Jennings' place …

(1:45) Gore is just special. There's no other way to put it. He takes a short pass over the middle on second-and-9 and is immediately attacked by two defenders. But Gore knocks through them like they're bowling pins, and he turns it into a 14-yard gain and first down. And that's how the first quarter ends, San Francisco trailing 10-3 but driving with a first down at its own 38 …

(1:48) Smith and Gore hook up on another short pass for nine yards to open the second quarter but, alas, the drive goes nowhere as Maurice Hicks is dusted for a 2-yard loss on second down and Davis drops a third-down pass that he lets bounce off his chest instead of securing it with his hands. Maybe, someday the rookie will learn that's not how to do it. A missed opportunity there for the 49ers …

(1:56) The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the NFL, right? The 49ers sure aren't making them look that way. Once again, Arizona marches down the field, virtually unobstructed by the San Francisco defense. Where is that D, anyway? This time, it's a 10-play, 74-yard drive. Leinart has all day to throw, and given that kind of time, he's going to find his receivers. The big play is a 39-yard hook-up with Bryant Johnson that moves Arizona into San Francisco territory. Leinart, again getting all day to throw, hits Fitzgerald on third-and-goal from the 6 for the score. Arizona now has scored on three of its four drives so far, and it's on the San Francisco offense now to respond …

(2:03) The 49ers respond to Arizona's second touchdown with a weak three-and-out. It's midway through the second quarter now, and the Cardinals are dominating in every facet. The scoreboard reads 17-3, and Arizona also has a 188-71 advantage in total yards. Hopefully, the 49ers already have heard their wake-up call …

(2:15) The 49ers can't even get it right on special teams. On the ensuing punt, long-snapper Brian Jennings is flagged for a facemask penalty, and Arizona starts its next drive at its own 46. And there go the Cards again. On third-and-5, Leinart hits J.J. Arrington with a nice little delay pass over the middle, and he takes it for a 19-yard gain. The Cardinals have a first down at the 20 now, but the defense finally steps up with a big play. It's provided by Roderick Green, who sacks Leinart for a nine-yard loss on third-and-2. But Rackers comes in to kick a 39-yard field goal, and that Arizona lead is now a 20-3 bulge with 1:57 remaining in the half …

(2:22) Davis still makes some maddening rookie mistakes, but the kid is a total beast, and he gave the 49ers something they really had to have on a crucial third-and-4 from the midfield with San Francisco desperately needing to put some points on the board before halftime. Davis runs an out-and-up, and as Smith sails a pass over the middle, Davis is dead meat. As he catches the pass in full strides, Davis is absolutely blasted by safety Robert Griffith, who practically beheads him. But Davis holds onto the ball as he's violently walloped to the ground, and Griffith gets flagged for a well-deserved personal foul on helmet-to-helmet contact. It's a 29-yard gain for Davis, and after the penalty, the 49ers are set up with a first down at the Arizona 11. Now, that was big …

(2:30) But what came next wasn't. Smith is sacked for a three-yard loss on first down, and the drive immediately fizzles. The 49ers settle for a 32-yard field goal by Nedney, but they needed more from this opportunity. Well, three points is better than no points, but it's a consolation prize after the momentous Davis catch …

(2:33) And that's how the half ends, with Arizona on top 20-6. The Niners have to regroup at the intermission, and then get it in gear fast. Worthy of note: On Green's sack, Leinart suffered a sprained left shoulder, and Kurt Warner came out to take the kneel down on the final play of the half. The early word is Leinart is questionable to return …

(2:37) A two-touchdown halftime deficit is a lot of ground to cover, but he 49ers have to pull out the stops to do it, because everything is set up for them. The New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons - the two NFC teams with 7-7 records who held the wild-card playoff slots entering Sunday's game - both lost at home earlier today, and now the Niners could pull into a virtual tie in the wild-card race with a victory …

(2:42) And now it appears that Leinart - who torched the 49ers on 9 of 13 passing for 162 yards and a TD in the first half - will remain on the bench for the second half. That could be good news, but then again, Warner sort of had his way with the 49ers back in the season opener. No matter who's back there, the 49ers have to get better heat on the passer to get back in this game …

(2:45) As the teams come back onto the field for the second half, the halftime stats show Arizona with a 220-117 lead in total yardage. After his great start, Gore has just 34 yards on seven carries as the 49ers have had to go away from their ground game. Smith is 9 of 14 passing for 101 yards, and you can be sure those numbers will be growing in the second half …

(2:55) The Cardinals come up short on third-and-4 after taking the second-half kickoff … and they go for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 32! But the San Francisco defense can't make the play, and Warner picks up the necessary inches easily. Boldin rips off a 23-yard gain on the next play, but the Cards get pushed back by a personal foul after the play, and then a false start. It's second-and-30 for Arizona, and the 49ers don't let the Cards get out of that hole. So, it's the defensive stop San Francisco needed to start the second half. Back to the offense now …

(3:00) It's another weak three-and-out for the 49ers, with Gore picking up one yard on first down followed by Smith being harassed into two incompletions. At this point, you get to wondering where the points are going to come from to get San Francisco back in this one if this keeps up …

(3:02) There you go! Just like that, the special teams make a huge play as Brandon Moore sticks Troy Walters on the ensuing punt return, and the ball goes bouncing around the field and bouncing off several different players before there's a pile-up of bodies near midfield. And Hicks is at the bottom of the pile with the football!! Just what the 49ers needed, and now they're in business at the Arizona 46 …

(3:08) That was the spark the 49ers needed. The offense rolls right down the field. Gore goes for 13 yards on first down to get it started, and the 49ers never face a third down before Gore hurdles over tacklers to take it two yards into the end zone for the touchdown. It's 20-13 now with 6:25 left in the third quarter, and the Niners are right back in it with the momentum on their side. The crowd's into it, too …

(3:24) The 49ers have their chances to stop the Cards, but Warner shakes free to complete a 12-yard pass to Fitzgerald on third-and-8 to keep the drive alive, and Arizona eventually takes it down to the San Francisco 20. But Shipp gets stopped after a 1-yard gain on third-and-3, and the third quarter comes to an end with Rackers lining up for 39-yard field goal. He makes it to begin the fourth quarter, but not without some controversy. Rackers barely sneaks it inside the left goal post - and we're talking, barely - and replays showed that he missed it. The crowd boos loud and long after replays, but there's nothing the 49ers can do. It's a two-possession game again with the Cardinals up 23-13 …

(3:27) How about that for a swing in momentum? Hicks returns the ensuing kickoff 64 yards, immediately setting up the 49ers at the Arizona 34. But on first down, Smith drops back, looks long, then dumps off a pass to Gore. The ball slips right through Gore's hands … and into the hands of Arizona cornerback Antrel Rolle, who returns it 23 yards to midfield. That's two bad breaks against the 49ers in less than a minute …

(3:38) But the Cardinals can't make anything out of the opportunity. Arizona takes it down to the San Francisco 32, but on third-and-3, Green races around the left side for another huge blind-side sack of Warner. It knocks the Cards out of possible field-goal range, and they have to punt with more than 10 minutes still remaining. Better yet, Arizona's called for holding on the punt, getting the 49ers deep out of their own territory as the penalty is tacked on after the play. The Niners go on offense at their own 17 …

(3:43) What deflation! We're talking about the 49ers' hopes here. On first down after the punt, Smith finds Battle underneath coverage. But after picking up a first down, Battle is stripped of the ball, and there's nothing but Cardinals around to fall on it at the San Francisco 18. That's two turnovers for the San Francisco offense on its last two plays. The defense holds, but Rackers tacks on a gimme 32-yard field goal to make it 26-13 with 8:28 remaining. The Niners need to start scoring, and scoring fast …

(3:55) It's crunch time now, and the 49ers made it that way with a gut-check drive on offense. First, Smith shakes free from the pocket on third-and-11 and finds Davis over the middle for a huge 44-yard gain. Then, on fourth-and-6 from the Arizona 11 - with everything riding on this one play - Smith hits Battle for a 10-yard completion to the goal line. Gore scores on the next play, and after Nedney's PAT kick, it's a 26-20 game with five minutes still on the clock …

(4:04) But the Cardinals start picking up first downs, and the 49ers have to burn their timeouts to keep the clock from ticking away. First, Warner finds Boldin for 14 yards. Then, two plays later, the Cards call a well-designed play and tight end Fred Wakefield is wide open for a 19-yard gain. And then, the killer. On third-and-4 from the San Francisco 29, the 49ers can't get the stop as Shipp takes a delayed handoff and slips up the middle for a 5-yard gain that takes the game to the two-minute warning. But the 49ers can't stop the clock again …

(4:07) And that's how this one ends, with the Cards running out the clock with Warner kneel-downs and the 49ers helpless to do anything about it. There goes those NFC West title dreams, and you can hear a playoff hope drop here at silent Monster Park, which is emptying out fast as the final seconds tick away …

Make sure and check back with www.sfillustrated.com later this afternoon and evening for full postgame coverage and comments from both locker rooms. -- CM


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