Seventeen years ago, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals traveled to Mexico City for the NFL’s first regular-season game played outside the United States.
The NFC West rivals are south of the border again Monday night with nearly 90,000 fans expected at Estadio Azteca.
Telemundo broadcast analyst Rolando Cantu, who was an offensive lineman on the Cardinals’ practice squad in 2005, compared it to a playoff atmosphere.
“That day, the fans were different. They were hungry to be a part of something unique,” Cantu said. “And the unique part about it was, this was a regular-season game. This game was going to count. It wasn’t an American Bowl. It wasn’t an exhibition game. This game was going to be remembered in the history books. If you got a ticket to go to Estadio Azteca, you were a part of history.”
The 49ers (5-4) have won two in a row and move into a first-place tie with idle Seattle atop the division with a victory.
The Cardinals (4-6) defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams 27-17 last weekend, a step closer to nudging their way back into the playoff picture.
The Cardinals are unsure who will start at quarterback. Kyler Murray missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury and backup Colt McCoy, who went 26 of 37 for 238 yards and a touchdown, tweaked his knee late in the victory. Both quarterbacks were limited participants in practice this week.
“I’m hoping at least one of them, yeah,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said when asked if either Murray or McCoy would be available Monday. “I think we should be able to get to that point hopefully by later in the week.”
Murray said he originally felt a tweak in Week 8 against Minnesota but played through it against Seattle the following week.
“I feel good,” Murray said. “I don’t know percentage or anything like that, but I feel a lot better. The way I play, I’ve got to be able to do what I do. I’ve played through those things, but there’s a fine line between making it worse and not making it worse. We’re on the right track.”
The Cardinals will be without tight end Zach Ertz, who suffered a knee injury against the Rams and is facing season-ending surgery. In addition, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring), offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (back), cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (back) and safety Budda Baker (ankle) have also missed practice.
The 49ers defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 22-16 last week in primetime, getting short touchdown runs by Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and three field goals from Robbie Gould to score the Sunday night win.
The 49ers’ offense is ranked ninth in the league but they’re just 18th in scoring with 22 points per game.
They scored two touchdowns on five trips inside the red zone against the Chargers. Their TD conversion rate of 57.8% inside the opponents’ 20-yard line is well below their league-leading rate of 66.7% from last season
“I do think there are a lot of things clicking,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But you’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10. You’re not going to get enough points, that’s for sure.”
The 49ers practiced this week at Air Force Academy outside Colorado Springs, Colo., to get acclimated to the high altitude in Mexico City.
While relatively healthy offensively, the 49ers have practiced without defensive linemen Arik Armstead (foot/ankle), Samson Ebukam (quadricep/Achilles) and Javon Kinlaw (knee).
–Field Level Media