49ers, Cardinals play for last place in awful West
SAN FRANCISCO – Jim Tomsula will make his NFL coaching debut for the San Francisco 49ers’ season finale against Arizona in what most everybody considers a meaningless game.
It’s for last place in the NFL’s weakest division. Perhaps for draft position, too.
Both teams are out of the playoffs, the two worst franchises in the woeful NFC West. Tomsula was San Francisco’s defensive line coach until late last Sunday, when the 49ers (5-10) fired Mike Singletary following a 25-17 loss at St. Louis that sent the club to its eighth straight season without a postseason berth. Tomsula was picked by team president and CEO Jed York to lead the Niners through their final game.
“We just have to go on and play ball. We don’t have the playoffs to fight for and we don’t have nothing – we just have to play for ourselves pretty much,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “It’s been quite an interesting year for us, changing offensive coordinators, quarterback controversy and firing our head coach. It’s been difficult.”
Tomsula’s position is far from comfortable. He loved working for Singletary but acknowledges the 49ers didn’t perform up to par on Sundays.
Tomsula hopes at least to send his players into the offseason on a high note with one more win – though that will hardly be enough for a 5-10 club that fully expected to win the West and was favored to do so back when the season started. York is working furiously to hire a general manager, then that person will hand pick Singletary’s successor. The 49ers are considering in-house vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke for the job.
Tomsula has no idea what that means for his future, but it’s not what he is most worried about right now.
“When I say a one-week calendar, that’s not something new for me,” Tomsula said. “My whole life is a one-week calendar. … When Sunday night’s over, I go in, that’s why I watch film on Sunday night, to make sure we close out the week, and I’m on to the next. … I’m very singular in my focus in that way. I’m a football coach. I’m Jim nobody from nowhere.”
The young Cardinals (5-10) have plenty of their own reasons for wanting to show up and make a statement in their last game. They are still embarrassed by a 27-6 home loss to the Niners on Monday Night Football on Nov. 29.
Arizona was awful in almost all phases that night, managing only eight first downs and getting 11 rushes for 13 yards in its sixth straight loss.
“If you can do some good things at the end of the year it certainly carries over into the next year,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Playing as poorly as we did against San Francisco helped (motivate us). That was embarrassing. Our guys got back to working the way we needed to. It’s embarrassing to us and our goal is not to come out flat like we did in that game. It was tough … especially with it having been on Monday Night Football on national TV.”
Whisenhunt is working to develop a winning mentality in his young players who are still finding their way.
The Cardinals will try to win back-to-back games for the first time all season while playing with an inexperienced lineup. A victory would give them wins in three of their final four following a seven-game losing streak. They have also lost the last three meetings with the 49ers.
Both teams are averaging below 20 points per game, Arizona at 18.8 (26th in the NFL) and San Francisco 17.8 (28th).
It was in that Monday night game that San Francisco running back Frank Gore went down for the season with a fractured right hip – a big blow for a team that revolved its offense around him. Brian Westbrook rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown in his place.
This week, it’s a defensive leader gone for the 49ers. Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, the team’s leading tackler in all four of his NFL seasons, had a second surgery on his broken right hand and will miss the first start of his career.
Willis said earlier in the week the 49ers weren’t going to call it quits before the final game just because they won’t be advancing to the postseason.
“(Coach Tomsula), he said early: ‘We’re not playing for the division title, we’re not going to the playoffs. Right now it’s about pride,”‘ Willis said. “I know he’s going to coach the way he sees fit. As long as he is our coach, we want to go out with a bang, and this week we’ve got Arizona and that’s our focus.”
Rookie Cardinals quarterback John Skelton had an up-close view of the debacle the last time these teams played. He sure hopes Arizona comes out ready and more prepared in this one – and will do his part to make that happen.
“I remember how bad it was for us offensively. Watching from the sideline I got something out of it,” Skelton said. “Nobody wants to lose and walk off Sunday with a loss. You want to get a win regardless what’s on the line.”