The Cardinals, first in the NFC West the past two years, finished this season in last. After a 3-2 start, they lost nine of their last 12, including seven in a row at one point.
“I think people are happy for it to be over,” safety Kerry Rhodes said. “It didn’t go the way we wanted it to. This season, we tried to play it off as we just weren’t getting it done every week, which is true. But you know changes have to be made, and that’s probably what’s going to happen this off-season, and you’ll see a different team out there.”
Alex Smith passed for 276 yards and two touchdowns, Brian Westbrook scored twice on the ground and the San Francisco 49ers ended their up and down season 6-10.
Named starter by interim head coach Jim Tomsula, Smith completed 15 of his 29 passes without an interception and connected on long touchdown throws to Ted Ginn Jr. and Vernon Davis while leading the 49ers to their second win in five games.
Westbrook rushed 13 times for 79 yards and scored on a pair of six-yard runs during San Francisco’s 21-point third quarter to put the game away.
Rookie John Skelton started the game and passed for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Arizona. Richard Bartel took over at the end of the third quarter and threw for 92 yards with an interception that was returned 62 yards for a touchdown by Tarell Brown.
Arizona finished last in a wide-open NFC West it had won the two previous seasons, while the 49ers won to stay out of the division basement.
Indeed, Sunday’s game was almost a one-game playoff to prove which team had the least disappointing season.
San Francisco, a preseason favorite to win the division, played for the first (and probably only) time under Tomsula, who took over when Mike Singletary was fired last Sunday following a 25-17 loss at St. Louis that ended the team’s playoff hopes.
Tomsula’s first act as interim coach was picking Alex Smith over Troy Smith as the team’s starting quarterback. Singletary juggled the quarterbacks all season and was in a heated exchange on the sideline with Troy Smith last week.
Alex Smith played his final game under contract, and the former No. 1 pick did a lot of things right.
He hit Ginn with a 37-yard touchdown throw in the first quarter even as Ginn was blanketed by two defenders, finding his receiver with a perfect touch pass in the right side of the end zone.
The 49ers extended their lead to 10-0 on Jeff Reed’s 39-yard field goal, but Larry Fitzgerald scored on a 10-yard pass from Skelton, also besting a pair of defenders in the end zone.
San Francisco scored three quick touchdowns in the third quarter to put the game away, beginning with Davis’ 59-yard reception on the first series after halftime.
Westbrook, thrust into a bigger role only after Frank Gore was lost for the season, scored twice on six-yard runs to make it 31-7. The second one was set up by Ahmad Brooks’ rumbling 32-yard interception return down the right sideline.
Brown capped the scoring in the fourth quarter, taking his pick untouched down the left sideline for an easy touchdown.