TEMPE, Ariz. -- To say anyone saw this coming would be a reach.

When coach Bruce Arians said he was leaning toward starting rookie Logan Thomas in place of Ryan Lindley in the Arizona Cardinals' season finale at San Francisco (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox), there was an element of surprise. Even, to a lesser degree, a sense of shock.

But it wasn't because Arians chose to bench Lindley after the Cardinals' 35-6 loss to Seattle in which Lindley completed just 18 of 44 passes and failed to throw a touchdown pass, extending his NFL-record streak of scoreless passes to 225. It was because Arians was going with the unproven rookie for an entire game.

Yet, it's the right choice.

Arians figured out quickly the Cardinals weren't going to win Sunday with Lindley. And with a division title and home-field advantage still on the line in a twisted, complex way, Arians can't throw in the towel just yet. By starting Thomas, Arizona will keep the 49ers guessing.

All the tape on Thomas will come from an appearance in relief of Drew Stanton for almost two quarters against the Broncos and one errant pass Sunday against Seattle. That's far from enough for the 49ers to prepare a game plan. They'll see nine passes thrown by Thomas, one of which was completed, an 81-yard touchdown to Andre Ellington.

Looking at his collegiate history, San Francisco will see a mobile quarterback. Yet, the 49ers may not see any designed runs for Thomas. At the same time, he may just take off.

See? It'll be hard to prepare for the unknown.

Arians gave himself an out, however, saying he'll be quick with the hook of Thomas if he's not playing well.

If Arians started Lindley, the 49ers would know what to expect. He was unproductive for the majority of Sunday's loss to Seattle. And when he did manage to move the ball, it led to points -- field goals, however, not touchdowns. For the third time in five games, Arizona failed to score a touchdown. With the playoffs looming, the Cardinals' offense is going backward. Had Lindley led the Cards to at least one score, his status for Sunday likely wouldn't have changed.

But the Seahawks dared the Cardinals to pass. They did. And it didn't work.

It didn't matter how Arians tried to spin his decision to start Thomas -- "I think we need to find out what he can do for the future and the playoffs, if it were to come to that" -- because it came down to the fact Arizona won't win with Lindley guiding the offense.

That may not change with Thomas on Sunday against San Francisco, but at least neither team knows what it's getting.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Regardless of how healthy Drew Stanton is by kickoff Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, he won’t play against the 49ers, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday.

The hope is to have Stanton ready for Arizona’s first playoff game, whether that’s during the wild card or divisional round.

“I have very, very high optimism because he wants to be ready,” Arians said. “I think had he not had that minor setback last week, he would have probably tried to play in that one.

“There’s no way I’ll play him this week unless we have to.”

After Thursday’s practice, in which Stanton was listed as a limited participant, Stanton’s right knee swelled but it went down quickly, Arians said.

“We don’t want to have another setback,” Arians said. “He’ll work into practice some this week and get some action in practice.”
  • Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is playing at a 70-percent level as he continues to recover from a sprained left MCL, Arians said. “He’s nowhere near what he was playing at before,” Arians said. Fitzgerald has averaged 6.5 yards per catch since his he returned in Week 14 after missing two games. Prior to his injury, Fitzgerald averaged 14.3 yards per catch.
  • Jonathan Cooper received a new cast and Arians said he’ll determine Wednesday if the second-year left guard can play in San Francisco. Arians said Cooper’s initial cast was built “non-functional.” Arians wouldn’t commit to Cooper regaining his starting role at left guard if he returns this season. “We’ll have to see that in practice because he did not do very well in practice last week,” Arians said. “And then we had to take him out. If he can, again, we won’t be in pads, so it’s very hard to find out, but we’ll see.”
  • Stanton will be the only player held out of Sunday’s game, Arians said. “We’re playing to win the game,” Arians said. “If Drew were truly healthy, we would start him but I don’t see that happening by Sunday.”
  • The Cardinals came out of Sunday night’s game healthy, Arians said.
  • Arians said University of Phoenix Stadium had the feeling of a “different game than it had been all year. We didn’t rise up to that. It’s a shame because they don’t come around very often.”
  • Arians praised the NFL’s scheduling department for putting together matchups this late in the season that ended up mattering. "I think the league does a great job in scheduling when you come down to the last week of the season and there’s so much at stake still,” Arians said. “Throughout the entire league, divisions are still up in the air, wild cards are still in the air. It’s going to be a fun week.”
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If that was Frank Gore's grand finale for the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night, what a way for the war horse running back to go out.

Individually speaking, of course.

Because to the 10-year veteran who has designs on wearing a gold jacket and seeing his bust in Canton one day, losing in such heartbreaking fashion to the San Diego Chargers trumped any individual accomplishment. Gore surging past the Chargers early and often in an eventual 38-35 overtime loss was a flashback for the ages and he resembled the Gore of old, rather than an old Gore.

[+] EnlargeFrank Gore
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezFrank Gore finished with 26 carries for 158 yards and a TD run in Saturday's loss against San Diego.
"Frank was energized," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He was playing very well. Our offensive line was doing an extremely good job. We rushed the ball very well. Weren’t able to finish."

Gore, 31, credited the big uglies, who were as healthy as they have been since the middle of the season with left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, center Marcus Martin, right guard Alex Boone, and right tackle Anthony Davis in the starting lineup.

It was Davis’ first game since suffering a concussion on Nov. 16, and Martin was back after missing last week with a knee injury.

"My whole offensive line was there," Gore said. "All year, we missed one guy here, one guy there. I think that is what the problem has been. My O-line dominated their D-line tonight."

Especially in the first half.

On the fourth snap of the game, Gore found a hole on the right side of the line, leaped through the seal created by a pulling Iupati and receiver Anquan Boldin, bounced off cornerback Brandon Flowers and linebacker Melvin Ingram, stiff-armed safety Eric Weddle, followed downfield blocks of receiver Quinton Patton and Staley and, 52 yards later, had a breathtaking touchdown run.

It was vintage Gore.

It was his fourth rushing TD of the season, his longest run since he had a 55-yarder at Detroit on Oct. 16, 2011, and his longest TD run since his 64-yarder at Indianapolis on Nov. 1, 2009.

And to think, Gore suffered a concussion six days earlier in Seattle, did not practice on Wednesday and was limited Thursday and Friday.

"That’s a grown-man performance right there," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "Coming off a concussion, we weren’t sure if he was going to play or not.

"He said, 'I want to go out and fight with y’all. I’m not going to leave y’all out there by yourselves.' And to come out and play the way he did and give this offense that lift was huge. That was a huge performance by him."

Gore, who entered the game averaging a career-low 3.9 yards per carry in the final year of his contract, had 129 yards rushing before halftime. But the Chargers adjusted and Gore had just 29 yards on 12 carries after intermission.

"They put their whole team in the box to stop the run," said Gore, whose 158 yards for the game was the fifth-most of his career.

"They did a good job in the second half. I just think we didn’t make enough plays in the second half to win this game."

Gore, though, did enough overall to harken memories of his former self.

"All the things that have been said [about him] and he comes out and plays like that," fullback Bruce Miller said. "You don’t see anything slowing down. The guy plays his tail off the whole game and is one of the best runners that has ever been."
videoGLENDALE, Ariz. -- The faster Larry Fitzgerald can erase Sunday's 35-6 embarrassing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the better.

It was one of those games teams don't like to talk about. One of those games that's rewatched once and forgotten about. Nothing went right. Everything went wrong. But neither one person nor one unit could be blamed for the Arizona Cardinals' loss. Not Ryan Lindley. Not the defense. Not the running game.

Arizona's first loss at home this season, on national TV no less, was bad all over.

"I don't think much of anything really worked," Fitzgerald said. "We didn't execute the way we're capable of doing it, and that's frustrating.

"We put a lot of time and effort into going out there and executing the plays, and not having it come to fruition is frustrating."

But it may not matter how quickly Fitzgerald or any of his teammates forget about losing the game that would've clinched the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the postseason -- Super Bowl included.

They may have to go through it all again next week.

Arizona's offense sputtered under Lindley, the third-year quarterback who hasn't started since 2012. His accuracy was an issue all game. His passes were either too high, too low or too wide. He completed 18 of 44 passes for 216 yards and an interception. His NFL-record streak of pass attempts without a touchdown grew to 225.

"I just wasn't on target for some of them," Lindley said. "We see it. "They're a good defense, but there are places to throw the ball. Tonight, there were some places that I missed. There were some places where they played good defense."

The Cardinals' offense didn't score a touchdown for the second straight game, giving them two in their past five games.

Yet for as wild as Lindley was, he still managed to march the Cardinals into the red zone twice. Both times, however, mistakes doomed potential touchdowns.

After the first of Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka's three missed field goals, Arizona put together its best drive of the game. Lindley was 3-for-4 for 34 yards with passes of 18 yards to running back Stepfan Taylor and 13 to tight end Rob Housler, which put Arizona at the Seahawks' 6-yard-line. Two runs by Taylor had Arizona at the 4 on third-and-goal, but a false start by left guard Ted Larsen backed the Cardinals up 5 yards. An incompletion followed, and Arizona had to settle for a field goal.

"Really, it was a miscommunication because the clock was winding down," Larsen said. "I don't think it was huge. You can't have mistakes like that. It's unacceptable."

Arizona's only other points -- all 18 in the past two games have come off field goals -- came on a 32-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro in the third quarter. That drive stalled at the 14.

As he did on Arizona's other scoring drive, Lindley completed three passes. A 12-yard completion to John Carlson put Arizona at the Seahawks 14, but a fumbled snap by Lindley on third-and-4 forced him into a bad pass, and the Cardinals settled for another field goal to cut Seattle's lead to 14-6.

For the season, Arizona's red-zone efficiency is 43.2 percent – fifth worst in the NFL.

"I think we had a shot," Lindley said. "We had that one nice drive where we got down there. Like I said, we'll look on film to know for sure, but we just couldn't punch it in, and that's going to fall on my shoulders … getting the ball in the right place and the other guys getting the ball in the end zone."

The pieces may not be picked up until Drew Stanton is healthy enough to play, whether that's Sunday at San Francisco or sometime in January during the playoffs. Until then, Arizona will continue to rely on Lindley.

"It shows you where we have to go, the kinds of teams that we're going to have to beat for us to reach our ultimate goal, and that's playing [in] and winning the Super Bowl," Fitzgerald said. "We have to be able to beat teams that are this quality, and we have to perform to the best of our ability."
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cardinals’ 35-6 loss to Seattle:
  • Rucker
    Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said he didn’t take offense to Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch grabbing his crotch as he dove into the end zone after a 79-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “It’s childish,” Rucker said.
  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said running back Kerwynn Williams didn’t play much Sunday night because “he’s not the best pass blocker that we have.” Another reason was because the Cardinals didn’t run the ball as much as the previous two weeks and the packages in place better fit Marion Grice and Stepfan Taylor.
  • Cornerback Patrick Peterson said upon finding out that the Seahawks gained almost 600 yards of offense: “I almost passed out. That is unacceptable for us, especially for our standards.”

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the Seattle Seahawks' locker room after their 35-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals:

Defensive end Michael Bennett on Marshawn Lynch's beastly 79-yard TD run: "That's the best run I've ever seen. It looked like he was running for his freedom."

Lynch's two-sentence response to every question he was asked him about his night: "Thank you for asking. I really appreciate it."

Canadian tight end Luke Willson on his two-TD night, including an 80-yarder: "I had a pair of American socks on, stars and stripes. The guys said that's why I had a good game. Who knows? It could be it."

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 35-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: The Seahawks (11-4) clinched a playoff spot and would clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the NFC with a victory next week. Seattle set a franchise record with 596 total yards of offense. The Seahawks now have won at least 11 games in three consecutive seasons.

Game ball: Second-year tight end Luke Willson had one of the best games ever for a Canadian in the NFL. Willson had two TD catches and three receptions for 139 yards. The Russell Wilson-to-Luke Willson connection was unstoppable, including the game’s biggest pass play on an 80-yard catch-and-run TD in the second quarter, tying the longest play of Wilson’s career and easily the longest TD for Willson, a lanky former lacrosse player who showed a lot of speed.

Offensive line holds strong: The Seattle offensive line was a big concern entering the game. Arizona sacked Wilson seven times in the game Nov. 23 at Seattle. He was sacked only once Sunday, even though the offensive line was without starting center Max Unger and starting left tackle Russell Okung. Patrick Lewis, who started that game against the Cardinals, made his second start Sunday and played well. Alvin Bailey did a nice job replacing Okung. They had to be doing a lot of things right to set a team record for yardage against a strong Arizona defense.

Sublime in prime time: The Seahawks are 13-1 in night games since Pete Carroll became the head coach, including nine consecutive prime-time victories and four this season.

Dominant D: The Seahawks defense has given up only 33 points in the past five games. Arizona scored only nine points -- three field goals -- in two games against Seattle.

Wilson set career marks: Wilson passed for a career high 339 yards and completed 20 of 31 throws for two TDs. He also rushed for 88 yards, including a career-best, 55-yard run in the first quarter. He also had a 22-yard run and 5-yard TD run.

Delayed entry, but a Beastly finish: Marshawn Lynch did not play in the first quarter because of what was officially listed as an upset stomach. Interestingly, Lynch entered the game right at the start of the second quarter. He made up for lost time with his most impressive touchdown since the Beast Quake. On a 79-yard touchdown run, he broke half a dozen tackles and managed to tight-rope the sideline before leaping backward into the end zone. He also scored on a typical bulldozer-type run from 6 yards out in the second quarter.

Bad half of penalties: The Seahawks had 10 penalties for 92 yards in the first half but only one for five yards in the second half.

What’s next: The Seahawks play their final regular-season game next Sunday at home against the St. Louis Rams with the division title and home-field advantage at stake.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 35-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium.

What it means: How Arizona played offensively in a blowout loss to Seattle on Sunday is what can be expected out of the Cardinals until Drew Stanton is healthy. Ryan Lindley struggled with his accuracy. But the loss can’t solely be blamed on Lindley. Sure, he didn’t play well, but there were many factors at play. His receivers didn’t help him as much as they could have. A false-start penalty on Ted Larsen in the second quarter helped derail one drive in the red zone. Lindley dropped a snap in the third quarter in the red zone and it led to another field goal. But Arizona’s defense allowed Seattle to accumulate 596 yards, tied for the second most yards allowed by the Cardinals in franchise history. They couldn’t contain Russell Wilson in the first half. Add in Marshawn Lynch's 113 rushing yards and Arizona’s defense struggled all night.

Stock watch: All the confidence in the world couldn’t help Lindley on Sunday. He was wildly inaccurate, throwing too high early then too low as the game progressed, and was long on others. The timing with is receivers wasn’t there, which led to Lindley throwing for 216 yards on 18-for-44 passing. All of that combined for a long night for the offense.

Running game absent: After running for 284 yards in their last two games, the Cardinals rushed for 29 yards on 15 carries. After being the spark for the running game, Kerwynn Williams ran for just four yards on two carries.

Game ball: For the second-straight game, rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro was the hero. He accounted for all six of Arizona’s points, the second consecutive game Catanzaro has been Arizona’s lone scorer.

What’s next: Arizona travels to San Francisco to play the 49ers at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
videoST. LOUIS -- Entering Sunday's game against the New York Giants, the St. Louis Rams defense was playing about as well as any in the league over the past eight weeks.

Included in that performance was a streak of 12 quarters without allowing a touchdown, two shutouts -- against the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins -- and a gem in which they held the Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning to the fewest points -- seven -- of Manning's tenure in Denver.

Those numbers were likely unsustainable for any defense but nobody expected what came in Sunday's 37-27 loss to the New York Giants. Fittingly, it was the younger Manning brother, Eli Manning, who was at the controls of an offense that made a previously extraordinary defense straining to reach ordinary.

By the time Manning and Co. were done, they had laid waste to the Rams to the tune of 514 yards of total offense, including Manning's 25-of-32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns.

"To give up 500 yards is embarrassing," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "They made all the plays today. We didn’t get a takeaway. We didn’t do enough just period in every facet of the defense. It was self-inflicted stuff. That’s the thing that really gets you upset because you think you’re past it.

"It’s cliché but it’s just back to work, fix our mistakes and try not to repeat them. This business is all about not being repeat offenders of the same mistake, if they are, they take it and you get replaced."

Sunday's performance probably left many Rams fans searching for possible replacements. New York's 37 points were the most allowed by the Rams this season and second most allowed by a Rams team since Jeff Fisher took over in 2012. The 514 yards of offense allowed were the most by a Rams team under Fisher.

While those monster offensive days have been rare against the Rams under Fisher, there were plenty of plays making up those yards that have become all too familiar. None more so than the 80-yard touchdown pass from Manning to rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the third quarter.

After a Rams touchdown made it 27-20, the Giants faced third-and-10 from their 20 with 55 seconds left in the third. On the previous play, starting cornerback E.J. Gaines had suffered a concussion that removed him from the game and brought rookie corner Lamarcus Joyner in his place.

Joyner lined up in the slot over Beckham with Trumaine Johnson on the outside receiver. At the snap, Beckham broke to the outside with outside receiver Rueben Randle coming underneath. Both Johnson and Joyner stayed with Randle, leaving Beckham with a free run into the Rams secondary where only safety Mark Barron awaited.

You can guess how that movie ended.

"It was a mental error by both guys, a miscommunication, something that we’ll go back and fix," Joyner said. "Technique and uncommon errors by guys. We gave up a touchdown. We were in two-man and we were supposed to in and out that, the defense has been playing well and it was my first time back out there so when you’ve got a new guy you need continuity and things kind of went south."

It was a play eerily reminiscent of the 68-yard touchdown catch by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant earlier this season when the Rams busted the coverage and failed to cover the most dangerous player on the field. If Randle makes a catch, it might go for a solid gain and a first down but if Beckham gets it, well, you know the rest.

Manning was 6 for 8 on passes traveling at least 15 yards in the air, twice as many as the Rams had allowed in their past four games combined. He also was able to pinpoint Rams' blitzes to great effect, going 13-of-15 when the Rams sent five or more rushers.

But instead of just one or two big breakdowns, there were many for this Rams defense. Giants running back Andre Williams had 110 yards on 26 carries, including 65 yards after contact as the Rams failed to tackle sufficiently. Even the Rams' revved up pass rush downshifted with only one sack, none from the defensive line, as Manning was 6 for 7 for 181 yards and a touchdown when he was pressured.

"I thought we were beyond that," Laurinaitis said. "But when you have miscommunication or whatever happened on plays or you drop coverage and you don’t play certain techniques right or you’re bad on third down, stuff that we hadn’t done, it's uncharacteristic to the way we had been playing."
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 37-27 loss to the New York Giants:

Gaines OK: There was a scary moment late in the third quarter, when Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines collided with safety T.J. McDonald while diving for an interception. McDonald's knee caught Gaines in the head, and Gaines crumpled to the ground, where he was instantly surrounded by teammates and medical staff.

Coach Jeff Fisher said after the game that Gaines would be OK. Gaines has a concussion and a lacerated lip and will go through concussion protocol.

Penalties and miscues: It's been a common combination for the Rams under Fisher, and it reared its ugly head again Sunday. Whether it was a coverage bust, a protection issue or a penalty flag, the Rams seemed to run the gamut on Sunday. They finished with nine penalties for 76 yards, but those included silly mistakes such as jumping offside on fourth-and-short when New York was punting and being offside on a kickoff.

"Mental errors in this league will get you beat faster than physical errors," tackle Joe Barksdale said.

Unacceptable: That was a word used by many around the Rams' locker room after their latest clunker. For a team that had showed signs of turning it around, it offered a not-so-subtle reminder that games such as this are always around the next corner.

"It's just unacceptable," defensive end Chris Long said. "We didn't play well, and it's just unacceptable."
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch did not start Sunday’s night’s game against the Arizona Cardinals because of an upset stomach. That was the official reason given. Robert Turbin started in the backfield for the Seahawks.

Lynch went through the pregame warmups and seemed OK. When the game started, Lynch was walking around behind the Seahawks bench wearing a stocking cap.

He did not practice Wednesday and Thursday. It is typical for the Seahawks to give Lynch time to rest his back, but he was a full participant in practice Friday.

Lynch has rushed for 1,133 yards this season, his fourth consecutive season with more than 1,000 yards rushing.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals made quarterback Drew Stanton inactive for Sunday night’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.

With the move, Logan Thomas will be the backup to starter Ryan Lindley. Combined, they have four career starts and are 5-for-18 passing for 111 yards and one touchdown this season.

Stanton was a game-time decision, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said on Friday. If Stanton had been active, he wouldn’t have been more than a backup, Arians said.

Seattle will be without C Max Unger and LT Russell Okung. The Seahawks have ran for 1,439 of their 2,363 yards to the left side, including up the middle this season.

Also inactive for Arizona will be wide receiver Brittan Golden, safety Chris Clemons, guard Jonathan Cooper, nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, guard/center Anthony Steen and defensive end Kareem Martin.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
videoST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 37-27 loss to the New York Giants at the Edward Jones Dome.

What it means: The Rams will now have one more chance to reach seven wins for the third consecutive season under coach Jeff Fisher. Not that seven wins should be some sort of benchmark, but a chance to get to eight would have at least offered something close to tangible progress. That will be even more difficult to come by, considering they finish the season with a trip to the Pacific Northwest to play the Seattle Seahawks. Sunday's game would show there's little chance of such an upset. A Rams defense that had been dominant for much of the second half of the season was picked apart by Giants quarterback Eli Manning & Co. Meanwhile, the Rams offense simply isn't good enough to cover a clunker from the defense. This came despite 10 days to prepare. At 6-9, the Rams face the real possibility of finishing with a worse record than in either of Fisher's first two seasons.

Stock watch: Down -- Rams defense. Sooner or later, the Rams defense figured to end its recent run of dominance. After 12-plus quarters with the Rams' not allowing a touchdown, Manning and the Giants thoroughly dominated a defense that was unable to create pressure and allowed big plays that led directly to points. The Rams even offered a signature busted coverage on Odell Beckham Jr.'s 80-yard touchdown -- something that was a regular occurrence earlier in the season but hadn't happened in a while. Overall, they surrendered 514 yards of offense, the most by a Rams defense since Fisher arrived in 2012.

Getting chippy: For two teams that rarely play each other, the Rams and Giants seemed to have plenty of animosity. Beckham, in particular, seemed a favorite Rams target, as safety T.J. McDonald and linebacker Alec Ogletree picked up taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after Beckham touches. Ogletree's late hit manifested into a big second-quarter brawl. Giants defensive end Damontre Moore, receiver Preston Parker and Rams defensive end William Hayes were ejected for their roles in the skirmish. Even former Rams kicker Josh Brown picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter. By the time all was said and done, the Giants and Rams accounted for 21 penalties for 225 yards.

Game ball: WR Kenny Britt -- Not many Rams were worthy Sunday, but Britt at least showed up and reminded why the Rams should make retaining him an offseason priority. He finished with nine catches for 103 yards and provided a good block on the perimeter to spring running back Tre Mason on his 10-yard touchdown run.

What's next: The Rams wrap up their 2014 with another season-ending trip to take on the Seattle Seahawks.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As hard as it's been, coach Bruce Arians wanted to keep life for the Arizona Cardinals normal for a few more minutes Saturday night.

His plan was to give a two-minute speech to his players during their team meeting, like he always does, then show the highlight reel from Arizona's win over the Rams.

At this point of the week, not much more needs to be said: Sunday night is the de facto NFC West title game for Arizona. If Arizona beats Seattle, the Cardinals win the NFC West and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

It also happens to be the biggest game regular-season game for the Cardinals since Larry Fitzgerald was drafted in 2004. Maybe since they moved to Arizona in 1988. One can argue the season finale in 1998 was the biggest, when a win over San Diego sent the Cardinals to the playoffs for the first time since they moved.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports"At the end of the day, what more could you ask for?" Patrick Peterson said. "Sunday Night Football, division game ... everything's on the line."
But no regular-season game in the last 26 years had this much on the line -- especially when home-field advantage includes the Super Bowl.

"At the end of the day, what more could you ask for?" All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Sunday Night Football, division game … everything's on the line. It's probably going to be the most-watched football game this weekend, probably the whole year."

It'll be a playoff atmosphere inside University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night, but that feeling hasn't permeated throughout the Cardinals' facility, Fitzgerald said. But it's been tough for left tackle Jared Veldheer to not let himself think about this week.

He can feel a "heightened sense of excitement in the air" and it's followed him home. He's found himself opening his iPad to look at tape during any free moment -- even right before dinner. Veldheer, who signed with Arizona in March as a free agent, has a different perspective on the Cardinals' fortunes this weekend after spending his four years in Oakland.

"Not being close to a game like this, it means a lot to me," he said.

Arizona is the underdog -- despite being 11-3, despite leading the NFC West, despite holding the No. 1 seed in the conference. According to, Seattle is favored by between 7 and 9.5 points, depending on the betting site. The Cardinals are used to it. They've been favored in just six of 14 games this season, according to -- and just once, against Atlanta, in their last five games.

And Arians loves it.

"Anytime you're an underdog at home, you understand what that means," Arians said. "You look forward to that challenge. It just adds a little fuel to the fire."

By this point in the season, Arians feels like his team deserves the respect it's not getting. But it's tough to be respected, however, when a team is perceived to be just getting by after injuries decimated all three phases of the game.

Arizona has lost 18 players to injuries this season for a combined 90 missed games -- including the first two quarterbacks on the depth chart. Being forced to play with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley will keep the doubters in business for another week.

But Veldheer feels the perception of Arizona can and will change with a win Sunday night.

"After this one, you can't deny it anymore," he said. "This is the chance to go out and take that respect.

"If you win this game, you take it. There's no question about earning it. It's there."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It does not get any closer to a microcosm of the San Francisco 49ers' season than this: a back-breaking 38-35 loss in overtime to the San Diego Chargers.

The Niners jumped out to a big lead, then hit a speed bump. They stood up, dusted themselves off and seemed to right themselves for the stretch run but then collapsed miserably.

Yes, the 49ers' story against San Diego was also the tale of woe for their season.

"Right now, not much to say," said a stunned Jim Harbaugh, who purportedly has only one game left in his Niners' tenure and whose team has lost four straight games to fall to 7-8.

"That's a tough one. Everybody feels it."

Especially when the 49ers jumped the Chargers at the outset, using a bruising ground game to score the first 21 points of the game and held a commanding 28-7 halftime lead.

The Niners still led by two touchdowns, 35-21, after Colin Kaepernick's 90-yard touchdown run, the second-longest run by an NFL quarterback since 2001, late in the third quarter.

"I thought it was over," running back Frank Gore said.

Instead, that's when the wheels came off.

Philip Rivers found an uncovered Antonio Gates for a 21-yard touchdown reception with 5:15 to play and then, after a three-and-out by the Niners offense, Rivers took the Chargers 80 yards in 14 plays, including converting a fourth-and-8 and a fourth-and-10. He hit Malcom Floyd with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game.

But even when things were going well for the Niners -- they won the coin toss to start OT and began driving -- there was an undercurrent of dread ... just like this entire season.

Because even if it seemed like 15 weeks of controversy, unbearable pressure and sky-high expectations were a thing of the past in a carefree first half, it really felt like the other shoe was about to drop in Santa Clara.

And it did on Quinton Patton's game-changing 20-yard end-around run that had the Niners in San Diego territory. That's when San Diego's Eric Weddle popped the ball out of Patton's hands and into the waiting arms of teammate Sean Lissemore.

Rivers was in business once more with the 49ers about to close shop.

Nick Novak's 40-yard field goal did more than end the game; it kept the Chargers' playoff hopes alive and put the 49ers out of their misery on this night, one in which they lost Eric Reid (concussion), Bruce Ellington (hamstring), Bubba Ventrone (groin) and Leon McFadden (concusion) to injury.

Consider these pearls from ESPN Stats & Info: the Niners rushed for 355 yards, the third-highest single-game total in franchise history and their most since 1948.

Gore, who rushed for 158 yards, had 93 yards after contact, his most in the last five seasons, and the Niners' 243 rushing yards inside the tackles were also their most in the last five years.

And Gore and Kaepernick, who rushed for 151 yards and passed for 114, were the first 49ers teammates to rush for at least 100 yards since Wilbur Jackson and Delvin Williams ... on Nov. 13, 1977.

"It's been a tough year for our team," Gore said. "Even starting in camp, it has just been injury after injury. It's hard to win when you don't have your top guys, but I am happy for the guys who stepped up."

The 49ers are only 3-4 in their first season at Levi's Stadium. They were 21-4-1 in their last 26 games at Candlestick Park.

"We have had losing seasons before," left tackle Joe Staley said. "But with the success we have had in the past, it has been weird."

Staley was talking about this season as a whole; he could have just as easily been referring to this game.