Arizona’s gigantic defensive end Calais Campbell talked this week about how he “hates” the 49ers “with a passion.”
That kind of remark might provide bulletin board material if this was some college showdown. These NFC West rivals have played each other enough to know what feelings are and aren’t involved, and that talk is usually just talk.
Besides, Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson noted, Campbell “doesn’t have a filter on his mouth.”
“Hate is a strong word,” San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith said. “I mean, they’re a division opponent.
Obviously there’s a lot of history there, we play them twice a year. Great rivalry; hate is a word I wouldn’t use.”
Hate-speak aside, what matters Monday night is what happens when two of the best defenses in the NFL take the field, the 49ers (5-2) looking to widen their lead in the division, the Cardinals (4-3) trying to end a three-game skid and move into a tie with San Francisco atop what’s become one of the league’s toughest divisions.
“We have some bad blood between the two teams with the success that they’ve had in recent years and we had before that,” Arizona quarterback John Skelton said.
Wilson has a hard time calling this a rivalry when the 49ers have won five of the last six in the series. That victory, though, came in their last meeting, 21-19 in Glendale on Dec. 11. It was one of only three regular-season losses for San Francisco. In that game, Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb took a knee to the head in the first series and was replaced by Skelton, who finished out the season at the position.
With Kolb now out for the second game in a row with rib and chest injuries, Skelton will be at the controls again Monday.
He threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice against San Francisco last year.
Smith was 18 for 37 for 185 yards in that loss and the Cardinals held the 49ers to 90 yards rushing. But it still was close, thanks to three Arizona turnovers.
“I feel like every time we play each other these are just physical battles,” Smith said. “Most of the time they are coming down to the end, and they are hard-fought games.”
San Francisco (5-2) is coming off a 13-6 victory at home over Seattle, the kind of win that’s become common in a division dominated by defense. Arizona (4-3) lost 21-14 at Minnesota when Adrian Peterson rushed for 153 yards.