4:25 PM ET, December 30, 2012
Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA
Not only did the San Francisco 49ers fail to clinch the NFC West title in their last game, they lost control of their ability to gain a first-round bye in the playoffs.
That could prove costly down the road given the number of key injuries the team has sustained.
The 49ers will try to bounce back from their worst loss under Jim Harbaugh in their second chance to clinch the division Sunday at home against an Arizona Cardinals team plagued by season-long quarterback problems.
San Francisco (10-4-1) fell 42-13 at Seattle last Sunday. The 49ers' lead over the Seahawks in the West was cut to one-half game, meaning that a victory over Arizona (5-10) or a Seattle loss to St. Louis is still needed for playoff-bound San Francisco to earn a second straight West crown.
"No excuses or justifications," Harbaugh said. "Our team needs to bounce back."
Perhaps more importantly, San Francisco fell one-half game behind NFC North champion Green Bay in the race for the No. 2 seed and a bye. The 49ers now must win and hope the Packers lose in Minnesota in order to gain that slot.
The week off could have been critical because numerous 49ers are battling injuries.
Defensive lineman Justin Smith's streak of 185 straight starts ended when he sat out against the Seahawks with an elbow injury. Harbaugh has not fully disclosed his status.
Tight end Vernon Davis practiced for the second straight day Friday but has yet to clear the league's NFL concussion protocol after getting hit hard by Seattle safety Kam Chancellor. Wide receiver Mario Manningham, previously bothered by a shoulder injury, limped out of the locker room Monday on crutches and is out for the season with torn knee ligaments.
Harbaugh is counting on the depth of his team to overcome these injuries.
"I feel our team's leadership, I feel the intellect of the staff, I think the talent of the players, the work ethic of the players will pave the way," Harbaugh said.
The 49ers are heavily favored to hand the Cardinals a seventh straight road loss. Arizona's 1-10 slide since a 4-0 start has raised questions about the status of sixth-year coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Whisenhunt will give Brian Hoyer his first NFL start Sunday, making him the fourth quarterback to start for Arizona this season. Kevin Kolb remains out with a rib injury, and Ryan Lindley and John Skelton have been ineffective.
Hoyer, acquired off waivers Dec. 10, went 11 of 19 for 105 yards and an interception after replacing Lindley during last week's 28-13 loss to Chicago, the Cardinals' sixth straight game without a touchdown pass.
"There's no question that we've got to have more consistency from the quarterback position, that's the No. 1 thing," Whisenhunt said Monday. "You look at last night's (Seattle-San Francisco) game and what a difference Russell Wilson has made in Seattle with all the plays that he makes. That's what you have to have."
Hoyer was cut by New England before this season and signed by Pittsburgh on Nov. 20. He never played for the Steelers, who cut him two days before the Cardinals picked him up.
"Anytime you're out there on the field, it's your resume," Hoyer said. "You have to go out there and take advantage of every opportunity you're given. In New England I didn't get many opportunities to get on the field."
The expectations don't seem to be too high at that position for Whisenhunt, whose team has the league's fifth-highest turnover total with 32. Opponents have scored 49 points directly off Cardinals' offensive turnovers to tie them with Philadelphia for the highest total in that category.
The Cardinals allowed two such scores last week.
"I think the thing that's been the hardest is the turnovers, especially the turnovers for points," Whisenhunt said. "You can't overcome those things, not every week."
The Cardinals have been outscored 85-23 in losing three straight at San Francisco, and fell 24-3 at home to the 49ers on Oct. 29 when Skelton was the starter. Alex Smith was the Niners' starter then and went 18 of 19 for 232 yards, three scores and a near-perfect passer rating of 157.1.
Colin Kaepernick has taken over since, and he turned in his worst effort as a starter last week by completing 19 of 36 passes for 244 yards, one TD and one interception.
More from ESPN.com
Best bets for Super Bowl 50
Who are the best Super Bowl 50 value bets after free agency? ESPN Chalk's Dave Tuley gives his recommendations, along with two handicappers.
Cardinals sign QB Harnish to 1-year deal
The Arizona Cardinals have signed quarterback Chandler Harnish to a one-year contract.
Neurologist lauds NFL's medical timeout rule
Dr. Javier Cardenas said the NFL's new injury-stoppage rule is a major advancement for sports medicine.
49ers waive offensive lineman Jonathan Martin
The San Francisco 49ers released offensive lineman Jonathan Martin on Thursday, the team announced.
Cardinals-49ers: What to watch
After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the Week 17 Cardinals-49ers matchup.
• San Francisco's defense needs Justin Smith: After starting 185 consecutive games, Justin Smith sat out last Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Seahawks and it quickly became obvious that San Francisco needs him to advance in the playoffs. Without an active, hard-nosed Smith next to him, OLB Aldon Smith struggled to be much of a factor. Justin Smith is a solid pass-rusher and does an excellent job of tying up blockers who would normally engage Aldon Smith.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||22.3||17.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||ARI|
|Rush Yds Allowed||ARI|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|San Francisco leads 14-8|
|Oct 29, 2012||ARI 3, SF 24|
|Dec 11, 2011||ARI 21, SF 19|
|Nov 20, 2011||ARI 7, @SF 23|
|Jan 2, 2011||ARI 7, @SF 38|
|Nov 29, 2010||ARI 6, SF 27|
|Dec 14, 2009||ARI 9, @SF 24|
|Sep 13, 2009||ARI 16, SF 20|
|Nov 10, 2008||ARI 29, SF 24|
|Sep 7, 2008||ARI 23, @SF 13|
|Nov 25, 2007||ARI 31, SF 37|
|Sep 10, 2007||ARI 17, @SF 20|
|Dec 24, 2006||ARI 26, @SF 20|
|Sep 10, 2006||ARI 34, SF 27|
|Dec 4, 2005||ARI 17, @SF 10|
|Oct 2, 2005||ARI 31, SF 14|
|Dec 12, 2004||ARI 28, SF 31|
|Oct 10, 2004||ARI 28, @SF 31|
|Dec 7, 2003||ARI 14, @SF 50|
|Oct 26, 2003||ARI 16, SF 13|
|Dec 21, 2002||ARI 14, SF 17|
|Oct 27, 2002||ARI 28, @SF 38|
The 49ers have 34 sacks this season when sending four or fewer pass rushers, the most in the NFL. The 49ers rely on their standard pass rush, sending four or fewer rushers on 81.2 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the league. All of Aldon Smith's 19.5 sacks this season have come when the 49ers send standard pressure.[+]
The 49ers have run 68 plays out of the pistol set this season, the second-most in the NFL. In Weeks 14 and 15 the 49ers ran 33 plays lined up in the pistol and averaged 6.4 yards per play. But in Week 16 against the Seahawks, the 49ers ran five plays out of the pistol set and gained only two yards.[+]
49ers Offense in Pistol Formations - Last 3 Games
ESPN Stats & Information