By: Joe Lami
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—
The San Francisco 49ers kept thing close on Sunday against the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals, but were unable to put together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter as they were defeated 19-13 at Levi’s Stadium. The loss drops their record to 3-8 on the season, officially eliminating them from any chance at the playoffs. It also ends the streak the 49ers had at home against Arizona of six straight wins.
San Francisco’s game improved by leaps and bounds compared to their 47-7 slaughter from the hands of Arizona in the third week of the season. The NFL’s leading passer, Carson Palmer was held to 271 yards, completing 24 of 40 and no touchdowns. However, he was able to run in the game-winning touchdown with just two and a half minutes remaining in the contest.
It looked like it was going to be a long day for the 49ers, as the Cardinals recovered a muffed punt by Bruce Ellington after the 49ers forced Arizona to punt on their first drive. The Cardinals used the turnover to their advantage, taking the 3-0 lead on a Chandler Catanzaro 26-yard field goal.
Catanzaro added a 41-yarder in the second quarter to make it 6-0. But San Francisco ended the uneventful first half with a Phil Dawson 53-yarder to give them momentum going into halftime trailing three.
San Francisco won the third quarter, but only after Arizona scored the first touchdown of the day. David Johnson ran the ball in from the one yard-line to give the Cardinals a 13-3 lead. The scoring play capped off a drive that saw nine plays ran from within the 49ers’ own five-yard line. Most of which was due penalties, as four penalties were called against San Francisco with three of them being pass interference calls.
Officiating was a big issue on Sunday, as the 49ers were called for 13 penalties for 81 yards. On average, San Francisco was only called six times per game heading in. Head coach, Jim Tomsula refused to comment on the officiating, while linebacker Navorro Bowman said the calls weren’t phasing them, but left guard Alex Boone came out and said “I’m not too worried about getting fined, I thought those refs sucked”.
The biggest blunders of the officiating came in the fourth quarter and helped lead the Cardinals to the game-winning touchdown. On a 3rd and 19, the 49ers’ bench was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the side judge ran into Torrey Smith on the sideline. Most referees would have let the play go, as there was hardly any contact. Smith later admitted that it was his fault and takes all the blame for the 15-yard penalty.
On the very next play, Quinton Dial sacked Palmer and hit him hard. The eight-yard sack was negative after Dial was called for roughing the passer when it appeared that Palmer ducked into the hit, making it look more extreme. Dial mentioned that he didn’t receive an explanation on the call. “When I saw the replay, I saw that he just ducked into it, but at the point there was nothing I could do. I thought it was a legal play though”.
San Francisco scored their first touchdown of the day in the third quarter, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to three. Vance McDonald connected on an eight-yard pass from Blaine Gabbert. McDonald had another magnificent game for the Cardinals, catching six of seven targets for 71 yards. “He’s doing a great job. He’s working his tail off and he’s playing at an extremely high level right now. Blocking well in the run game, catching the ball and he had some big plays today,” said Gabbert on McDonald’s performance.
The 49ers tied the game heading into the fourth quarter after Dawson kicked a 33-yard field goal with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
San Francisco had a chance on the final drive of the game to comeback and win it. After the Palmer eight-yard touchdown scamper, the extra point was missed, giving the 49ers hope. “That whole drive was an emotional whirlwind. It was frustrating that we couldn’t control the part of the game with the refs, but when they missed the extra point, it was justice,” added McDonald.
However, the 49ers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity with 2:21 remaining. The pivotal play came on a 3rd and 10, where Gabbert was sacked for ten yards, bringing up a 4th and 20 to keep the game alive. “You don’t want to take a sack there at all. We obviously don’t want that. So, if there’s a way to get rid of that ball, we need to,” Tomsula added. On the 4th and 20 Gabbert connected with Anquan Boldin for 18 yards, but the play resulted in a turnover on downs.
Though, the 49ers don’t come away with the victory, there are things to be proud of for the red and gold. Gabbert hit a new career high in passing yards, finishing 25 of 36 for 318 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The 49ers’ run defense stopped the Cardinals ground attack to just 70 yards on 29 attempts. “What I see in positives are the things that we emphasized in ourselves, in terms of defensively with the run fits and tackling and going after those things. I see the positive in the offense in terms of the reads and picking things up and improvement there. But, it is a loss,” commented Tomsula.
The 49ers now have a .500 record at home and head into two straight road matchups against Chicago and Cleveland. They are winless away from Levi’s, and now that they are officially eliminated from the playoffs, the only thing they have to play for is pride and a roster spot on next year’s team.