Facing the league’s top-ranked offense, the San Francisco 49ers defense gave quarterback Blaine Gabbert everything it could to defeat the first-place Arizona Cardinals.
Playing as heavy underdogs, the 49ers, and Blaine Gabbert, once again showed significant improvement in the loss. But the progress wasn’t made readily apparent.
After forcing a three-and-out during Arizona’s first possession of the game, San Francisco return man Bruce Ellington muffled a punt, returning possession to the Cardinals at his own 39-yard line.
In the end, the 49ers out-gained the Cardinals potent offensive attack, putting 368 yards on the board compared to Arizona’s 337. Two first half turnovers led to six points for the Cardinals, likely proving to be the most detrimental in the 19-13 defeat.
Gabbert completed 25 of 36 for a career-high 318 yards with an interception, including 226 yards passing in the second half. Carson Palmer threw for 271 yards on 24 of 40. San Francisco’s defense held Arizona’s top-ranked offense to two field goals and 128 yards in the first half. Palmer, considered to be an MVP candidate throughout the league, finished the game with zero touchdown passes.
In another defensive showcase, the 49ers goal-line defense was put to the test. They kept the Cardinals out of the end zone on eight consecutive plays — in the process, they were flagged for four penalties in the end zone at the same time.
Jimmie Ward was called for pass interference; Tramaine Brock was flagged for illegal use of hands; Eric Reid was penalized for pass interference; and Michael Wilhoite was also ruled guilty of pass interference. Each of those infractions gave the Cardinals a new set of downs.
More than a few questionable calls from the games officials made NaVarro Bowman, Eric Reid & co’s job a bit more difficult.
“It’s not in my character to blame the refs, but, man, were there some questionable calls,” free safety Reid said during postgame. Guard Alex Boone, never a man short on words, said simply, “those refs sucked,” after the game. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin had a comment of his own, saying it felt like the 49ers were playing ‘two teams’ on the field today.
Boldin was San Francisco’s final offensive target of the game — Gabbert, behind center during fourth-and-20, found the receiver down field. The play ultimately fell two yards short of a first down, returning the ball to Carson Palmer.
The most questionable of calls came during the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 13 and seven minutes remaining, tackle Quinton Dial registered a sack of quarterback Carson Palmer for an eight yard loss. Dial was flagged for roughing-the-passer on the play, for apparently making helmet-to-helmet contact on the hit.
Two first down’s later, Palmer targeted J.J. Nelson with a 34-yard pass to move the Cardinals to the 1-yard line. Though this reporter didn’t check the play clock on the field, the snap of the ball on that pass came a full second after the play clock had expired on Fox’s TV broadcast.
Shortly thereafter, Palmer ran for a go-ahead 8-yard touchdown. San Francisco has now been effectively eliminated from NFC West playoff contention with the loss.