The San Francisco 49ers denied the Arizona Cardinals their second successive NFC West divisional title on Monday, capitalizing on their opponents’ fumbling to ride out surprise 24-9 winners.
The 49ers forced seven turnovers and quarterback Alex Smith produced two touchdown passes for San Francisco, who kept alive their own slim playoff chances.
“I can’t express how proud I am of our team,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. “Most teams would have quit [and said] we’re not going to make the playoffs but we came out and played well.”
Smith, who has excelled since being made starting quarterback in late October, connected with Vernon Davis from five yards out and Michael Crabtree for 35 yards as the 49ers raced to a 17-0 half-time lead.
Arizona clawed back to 17-9 with 14:03 left on a one-yard scoring run from Beanie Wells, but he fumbled a few minutes later to give up possession at the Cardinals’ 16-yard line.
Running back Frank Gore capitalized with a two-yard touchdown run for the 49ers and finished with 167 rushing yards.
The Cardinals (8-5) finished with five fumbles and two interceptions by Kurt Warner for a turnover total that matched the NFL season’s highest. Warner had made 130 passes without an interception and went without a touchdown pass for the first time this season.
“It was one of those things where the ball didn’t bounce in our direction,” Warner said.
“There were some instances where guys were trying to gain extra yards and at times they knew what we were doing and made good plays. It was a mistake-filled game we have to correct and move forward,” he said.
NFC champions Arizona can still clinch the division by winning two of their final three games.
But after five first-half turnovers, Arizona’s misery was further compounded when a third quarter injury forced top receiver Larry Fitzgerald from the field, although he later returned.
Ahmad Brooks led the San Francisco defense with three sacks while safety Dashon Goldson forced two fumbles and had an interception.
The 49ers had lost six of eight games entering the night, but salvaged some optimism with their latest win.
“We still feel we’re a championship team,” Goldson said. “Our mindset and heart is still in this season.”
KEY GOAL: Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is now free to focus on taking her fourth doubles title of the year with Barbora Strycova; they are due to face Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei on Monday returned to the court for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the WTA Tour, falling to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, who made a solid transition from the hard courts in New York to the clay at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest,” Mertens told the WTA Web site. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little. It was also [Hsieh’s] first match of the week, so that was a bit of an
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