The Arizona Cardinals tormented Colin Kaepernick in one of the most decisive victories in franchise history earlier this season but will have to pick on a different San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sunday.
While that defense takes on Blaine Gabbert, Carson Palmer seeks a single-season franchise record for touchdown passes in the Cardinals' pursuit of a fifth consecutive win and first road victory over the 49ers in seven years.
Arizona (8-2) intercepted Kaepernick four times and returned two for touchdowns in the opening quarter Sept. 27 en route to a 47-7 victory. Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson each scored two TDs in the Cardinals' most lopsided win since beating the Houston Oilers 44-0 on Nov. 1, 1970.
The 49ers (3-7) benched Kaepernick in favor of Gabbert ahead of a 17-16 win over Atlanta on Nov. 8, and his tenure in San Francisco might have ended following left shoulder surgery Tuesday.
"Gabbert is taking care of the football better. The receivers are more involved so it's a good challenge for us," said Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu, who scored one of those first-quarter touchdowns in September. "It seems like Gabbert has a better understanding of coverages and getting his receivers involved. He's an underrated passer.
"We know those guys are going to come out fired up, ready to prove a point."
Palmer has continued to roll along after throwing for 311 yards and two scores in that matchup. He topped 300 yards in a third consecutive game last Sunday and shook off a pair of early interceptions in a 34-31 win over one of the AFC's top teams, Cincinnati.
"We had another tough opponent in the Bengals with only one loss but we were able to drive down late in the game and finish it off," safety Rashad Johnson said. "We're finding ways to win, and we have momentum at the perfect time."
Palmer completed three passes for a combined 57 yards on the game's final drive to set up Chandler Catanzaro's 32-yard field goal with two seconds left.
The 12-year veteran has 11 TD passes in the past three games to take over the league lead with 27, three shy of Kurt Warner's single-season franchise mark of 30 - set in 2008.
"He can have rough moments, shake them off and just come on back," coach Bruce Arians said. "He's like a really good pitcher who can't find the plate, then all of a sudden he gets in a groove."
Gabbert, meanwhile, played better last Sunday in his second start despite the 49ers returning from their bye to lose 29-13 in Seattle. He was 22 of 34 for 264 yards - his second-most in 29 NFL starts - and one touchdown without an interception.
San Francisco's defense suffered a big blow with defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey tearing his right ACL on the Seahawks' first play from scrimmage. The 49ers went on to allow a season-worst 255 yards on the ground.
"When Glenn got hurt, I didn't like our body language," coach Jim Tomsula said. "We have to address that."
Arizona is hoping that star defensive back Patrick Peterson can play after leaving last weekend because of an ankle injury.
The Cardinals have lost six straight road games against the 49ers, but the most recent was a 20-17 loss Dec. 28 in which Palmer didn't play. They lost their previous five visits by a combined 144-56 score and haven't won a road game in the series since a 23-13 victory Sept. 7, 2008.
"They're still the Niners. It would mean a lot to this franchise," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "We've just got to get it done. It's not going to be an easy game by any means. ... It would be a big step forward for this organization as far as being on top of these guys. It's time for us to finally be on top."
Arizona, 4-1 on the road this season, has won two of the past three overall meetings after dropping nine of 10. All three of San Francisco's wins this year have been at home.