SANTA CLARA -- Frank Gore has a rare NFL milestone 10,000 career rushing yards in his sights today but a formidable obstacle in his way.
The Arizona Cardinals are first in the NFL in stopping running backs, and players and coaches said it was a key to their 10-5 record and in their upset over the division-leading Seahawks in Seattle last week. The Cardinals held Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to 71 yards and kept him out of the end zone.
I thought stopping the run was huge in that game, Arizona coach Bruce Arians said on a conference call. We wanted to win both lines of scrimmage and felt like our defensive line stopped them pretty good.
In a way, Arians said, the Cardinals owe their recent run-stopping success to Gore and the 49ers.
During their Week 6 game in San Francisco in October, the Cardinals were crawling back into the game late in the third quarter when the 49ers went on an 18-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that put the contest out of reach.
The drive lasted nearly 10 minutes, ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Kendall Hunter and included 11 runs. Gore had 41 yards on the drive, and at one point he carried the ball on the same power-running play five straight times, all to the left side of Arizonas defensive line.
Instead of demoralizing the Cardinals, they turned that sequence into a lesson.
Said Arians: We feel like weve gotten better from that drive. We learned a lot on that drive. And (we) have become the No. 1 defense in the league against the run for a reason.
The lesson learned: Stay in your gap, dont try to do too much. Its very simple.
The Cardinals have plenty of motivation to knock off the top two teams in their division in successive weeks.
They need a win today, coupled with a loss by the New Orleans Saints to Tampa Bay, to grab the final spot in the NFC playoffs. The games kick off at the same time, 1:25 p.m.
If both the Cardinals and Saints win, Arizona will finish 11-5 and out of the postseason, only the second time an 11-win team has failed to make the playoffs since the divisions were realigned in 2002.
Were not being little girls about it and moaning and things like that, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. We want to control what we can control. And thats our game on Sunday.
Even though two NFC teams the winners of the NFC North and NFC East will finish with inferior records no matter what happens today, Arians said he doesnt think the league should tinker with the playoff format.
I think its just bad luck, he said. I think the playoffs are perfect the way they are.
Gore surged past former University of Miami teammate Clinton Portis on the all-time rushing list with 92 yards Monday against the Atlanta Falcons. He has 9,953 yards in his nine seasons, and only 28 players have had more during their careers. He needs just 58 yards today to pass Ricky Williams.
Gore, however, acknowledged todays game will be a tough matchup against defensive end Calais Campbell, linebacker Karlos Dansby and inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who had recently returned from a suspension when the teams played earlier this year but whom Gore cited as one of Arizonas better run defenders.
Its a playoff game, Gore said. Theyre going to play it like a playoff game. Theyre going to come to play, and were going to be ready to play.
Read Matthew Barrows blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.