SAN FRANCISCO - Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals took all the unpredictable fun out of an NFC West rivalry known for some of football's wackiest endings.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald breaks the tackle of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson (99) in the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008, in San Francisco.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Warner passed for 197 yards and led three monotonously effective drives in the second half of the Cardinals' 23-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Anquan Boldin had all of his eight catches for 82 yards in the second half of the Cardinals' third straight opener against the 49ers, who beat them twice last year to ruin their playoff hopes. Arizona allowed none of the late-game hijinks that cost the Cards both meetings with San Francisco last year, grinding out 12 first downs while holding onto the ball for nearly 23 minutes in the second half.
J.T. O'Sullivan passed for 195 yards in his first NFL start for the 49ers, whose long-woeful offense looked downright competent under new coordinator Mike Martz — if it could only get its hands on the ball. Frank Gore rushed for 96 yards and San Francisco's only touchdown on an early 41-yard scamper, but the Niners' offense barely got on the field in the second half.
Neil Rackers' third field goal, from 30 yards with 1:57 left, capped an 18-play drive that covered 62 yards in 10:08, draining the life out of Candlestick Park. Rookie Tim Hightower rushed for his first NFL score early in the second half, and Larry Fitzgerald caught a short TD pass.
San Francisco beat the Cardinals twice last year under bizarre circumstances. Receiver Arnaz Battle rushed for the last-minute winning touchdown in the Candlestick Park opener after the Cards failed to hold on to an end-zone fumble, and 49ers linebacker Tully Banta-Cain fell on Warner's fumble in the end zone for the overtime winner in the all-offense rematch in Arizona.
Warner, who beat out Matt Leinart for the Cardinals' starting job, did a masterful job keeping the Arizona offense moving just barely enough to frustrate the Niners' defense. The two-time MVP finished 19-of-30, while Edgerrin James rushed for 100 yards.
O'Sullivan, the eight-team journeyman who won the 49ers' starting job, was 14-of-20 with an interception. Bryant Johnson, who spent the last five seasons with Arizona before joining the Niners, had three early catches for 48 yards, while Isaac Bruce failed to catch a pass for just the seventh time in his NFL career in his 49ers debut.
Gore got the game's opening touchdown on an open-field run in the first quarter, but the Cardinals answered with a 58-yard drive culminating in Fitzgerald's 1-yard TD catch immediately after Steve Breaston's 40-yard reception.
After Rackers put Arizona up 13-10 to start the third quarter, his short kickoff was touched by Takeo Spikes and recovered by the Cards, who scored on Hightower's rush through a gaping hole on fourth down from inside the San Francisco 1.
Before the game, Alex Smith said he could learn Monday whether his new shoulder injury will require season-ending surgery. Smith, inactive after feeling the injury Friday, likely will be finished with the 49ers if he needs shoulder surgery for the second straight year.