SAN FRANCISCO - For months, Mike Singletary pounded home the notion that San Francisco's identity would be as a power-run offense, with Frank Gore as the central figure.
Oh, how that's changed for the 49ers since they started the season with a win at defending NFC champion Arizona. As Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt prepared for tonight's rematch at Candlestick Park, the game-planning was much different - yet Arizona is still counting on having to shut down Gore if the Cardinals (8-4) are going to clinch a second straight NFC West title by winning this game.
"I know they made some changes offensively, but so have we. I think that's the natural part of the NFL season and how it goes," Whisenhunt said. "Just based on what I've seen the last few games, they've thrown the ball a little bit more. They're obviously doing that well."
So are the Cardinals.
Kurt Warner shined Dec. 6 in beating Brett Favre and Minnesota, throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns in the 30-17 victory. He topped the 3,000-yard mark for the season and earned NFC offensive player of the week honors to boot.
Warner and Co. would like nothing more than to beat their division rival on national television and wrap up the division. This team believes it can make another special postseason run after reaching the Super Bowl last season.
"We've got to get this win to win our division and stamp our ticket to the playoffs," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
San Francisco (5-7), which visits the Eagles on Sunday, has switched quarterbacks since the last meeting. Singletary promoted Alex Smith at halftime against Houston on Oct. 25. Rookie receiver and top draft pick Michael Crabtree had yet to sign the last time these teams played, too.
Singletary finally relented about his offense upon seeing the success Smith was having out of the shotgun and in a spread offense, with a handful of talented targets to choose from.
"We're basically trying to be a balanced team," 49ers receiver Josh Morgan said. At the beginning of the season we started out wanting to be a power-running offense but they did a great job on Frank the first game and we didn't end up doing that."
Gore carried 22 times for only 30 yards in the first meeting with Arizona, yet he followed that up by running for a season-best 207 in a win over Seattle the following week. In his last three games, he's had 7, 16 and 9 carries - for 59, 33 and 25 yards, respectively. But he's also had 15 catches during that span.
Tight end Vernon Davis has 11 touchdown catches, most in franchise history at his position. He repeatedly said he could produce this kind of big year if only given the opportunities.