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49ers-Cardinals, then and now

The run-oriented 49ers beat the pass-oriented Cardinals after Shaun Hill led a 15-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

That was Week 1.

With the rematch pending in Week 14, this seemed like time to revisit observations made after the 49ers' 20-16 victory on Sept. 13.

Then: "The Arizona Cardinals will not be coasting to another NFC West title this season."

Now: The 49ers made the Cardinals work early in the season, but they imploded in Week 5 against the Falcons, never fully recovering. The Cardinals' improbable ability to win road games helped them pull away. They likely will be coasting to another NFC West title.

Then: "The San Francisco 49ers will not be giving away games the way they did when former offensive coordinator Mike Martz was trying to run a Formula 1 offense with personnel better suited for a tractor pull."

Now: The 49ers have reduced turnovers from 2.2 per game last season to 1.4 per game this season. They are no longer giving away games. But they are throwing the ball more than anticipated.

Then: "The gap between the Cardinals and 49ers in football IQ was striking. The 49ers committed four penalties for 31 yards. The Cardinals committed 12 for 82." Coach Ken Whisenhunt issued a threat by saying, "Guys who are going to have penalties are not going to play."

Now: The Cardinals have committed 88 penalties (counting those declined), 14th-most in the league. Right tackle Levi Brown ranks third in the NFL with 10 penalties, but he is still playing. Left tackle Mike Gandy has eight penalties. Jeremy Bridges might start in his place Monday night.

Then: "At their worst, the Cardinals are simply undisciplined. They have a hard time focusing game to game. That must change for the Cardinals to disprove perceptions of them as a 9-7 team that feasted on a poor division and got hot at the right time last season."

Now: The Cardinals appear to have matured significantly. They have been more consistent game to game. An undisciplined team would not go 5-1 on the road and outclass the Vikings at home. The victory over Minnesota changed perceptions.

Then: "Both Arizona tackles had problems in protection. Warner seemed to hold the ball too long a few times while the 49ers continued to play the Cardinals' receivers better than anyone."

Now: The Cardinals allowed zero sacks against the Vikings' defense, a big surprise. They still must prove they can protect against the 49ers. Nate Clements' absence from the 49ers' secondary could help the Cardinals' receivers. Steve Breaston, a last-minute scratch from the lineup in Week 1, appears healthy. He could make a significant difference.

Then: "The knock on the 49ers all preseason was that they couldn't mount a pass rush. They sacked Warner three times and hit him eight times, including four times by Haralson."

Now: The 49ers sacked Matt Hasselbeck five times in Week 13. Their pass rush has not been consistently effective, however.

Then: "Beanie Wells carried for 15 and 8 yards on consecutive plays in the third quarter. Starter Tim Hightower caught 12 passes for 121 yards as the 49ers took away Fitzgerald and Boldin, but Wells can provide a needed big-play threat in the running game. I think he'll be starting before long."

Now: Wells is not starting, but he's a significant weapon. Hightower has exceeded expectations. The Cardinals enter this game with the better rushing attack, a surprise.