Double whammy in desert for Niners, Cardinals

Posted Nov. 30, 2010 @ 12:12 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

In a Monday-night NFC West matchup between the Cardinals and Niners that much of the nation probably took for granted, there was no denying the ramifications for both teams resulting from San Francisco’s 27-6 lopsided victory.

While the Niners lost RB Frank Gore for the rest of the season with a fractured right hip, Cardinals QB Derek Anderson lost his temper in a post-game meltdown that brought back memories of former head coach Dennis Green’s infamous tirade following a Monday-night loss to the Bears a few years back.

Gore, who was second in the league in total yardage entering the game, rushed for 52 yards in the first quarter before being forced out of the game. While both Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon did a commendable job picking up the slack, it’s obvious the loss of Gore couldn’t have come at a worse time for a Niners team fighting for its playoff life.

While anything is possible in the weak NFC West, it would appear the Cardinals effectively removed themselves from the divisional equation following an absolutely wretched primetime performance in all three facets of the game.

It got much worse when ESPN cameras captured Anderson and starting ORG Deuce Lutui laughing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter with their team down by 18 points — an exchange that immediately drew heavy criticism from ESPN commentator Jon Gruden.

After being pressed on the incident after the game by Arizona Republic beat man and PFW Cardinals correspondent Kent Somers, Anderson launched into a profanity-laced tirade before storming away.

The PFW Spin

Let’s start with the loss of Gore, which doesn’t bode well for the Niners at all, despite the fact Westbrook had an impressive performance against the Cardinals with the benefit of the Niners offensive line’s best blocking effort of the season (23 carries for 136 yards and a TD).

Put simply, Gore is the heart and soul of the Niners, both on and off the field, and while a case can be made for Westbrook entering the fray with relatively fresh legs due to his minimal usage up until now in a Niners uniform, he is a significant downgrade from Gore at this stage of his career.

That said, the Niners could do a lot worse than Westbrook, an accomplished performer with a great track record, as far as an emergency replacement for Gore is concerned. But considering the injuries that he has had to deal with the last couple of seasons, there has to be great cause for concern. Not only is Gore arguably the league’s best dual-threat rusher, but he also is one of the league’s best backs in terms of blitz pickup — a fact worth noting considering how heavily the Niners have turned to max-protection schemes.

Switching to the Cardinals, clearly it has turned into the season from hell for a franchise that just two years ago was living large with a surprise Super Bowl berth. The heat on head coach Ken Whisenhunt has really intensified, with both Anderson and rookie Max Hall failing miserably to replace future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner under center.

Before erupting out of control, Anderson indicated that he and Lutui were voicing support for one another, which is the same explanation Lutui essentially offered when questioned in the locker room. But Somers, who was immediately bombarded by livid tweeters demanding to know why the Cardinals QB seemed so cavalier with his team getting manhandled, dutifully persisted with a line of questioning that was far from being out of line, although he has received a fair amount of cyberspace criticism in the last 24 hours.

Appearing on a Chicago sports-talk radio show this morning, Somers, who yours truly considers one of the best guys and straightest shooters in the business, regretted the big deal that was being made of the whole episode. But even though Anderson had no intention of pouring salt on the Cardinals’ very open wounds at the moment, he obviously struck a very fragile nerve with a lot of people.

Whisenhunt said he had yet to see the taped exchange, and it remains to be seen if he will make a QB change in favor of Hall. But the suspicion here is that Anderson will remain under center, considering how ineffective Hall was when given the opportunity to start earlier this season.

Actually, it’s quite possible the fire Anderson so emphatically displayed might end up being a positive for a team that couldn’t have looked more burnt out.