Five thoughts from 49ers’ gut-wrenching loss to Cardinals

Digital First Media/The Mercury News

The Arizona Cardinals prevailed over the San Francisco 49ers, 18-15, Sunday afternoon. Here are five takeaways.

The 49ers should have won this game

Competition aside, this win would have righted the ship during a season that desperately needs some positives with the Jimmy Garoppolo injury and constant disappointment throughout recent weeks. Grinding out wins counts for something, even that may not ultimately result in the playoffs.

The 49ers were in favorable position to win Sunday’s game. They trailed for just six minutes in total, during a stretch from the beginning-to-middle of the second quarter, and during the final minute, after the Cardinals took a three-point lead.

The 49ers should have put this game away when they recovered a fumble at their 30-yard line, leading by five points, with fewer than five minutes remaining. If the 49ers scored a touchdown, or milked enough clock and kicked a field goal, the game was theirs. But they punted after yielding just five yards on the next possession.

The Cardinals scored a touchdown and converted their two-point conversion on their ensuing drive to take the three-point lead. marched 73 yards for the game-winning touchdown drive.

Finally, the 49ers won the turnover battle

The 49ers entered Sunday with a -15 turnover differential, the worst in in the NFL. The only other time aside from Sunday in which they emerged on the right side of the turnover battle this season, they won, in Week 2 against Detroit.

The 49ers did not turn the ball over Sunday for the first time since Week 3. The Cardinals had two turnovers.

The last matchup of these teams featured a 5-0 turnover differential in Arizona’s favor. The 49ers tripled the Cardinals in first downs and doubled them in yardage and time of possession, but the five turnovers were too great to overcome in the 10-point loss.

The 49ers won the turnover battle Sunday, but it ultimately did not matter — which is troubling.

Better pass rush fueled improved defensive performance

Two main issues have plagued the 49ers defense all season: lack of pass rush and inability to force turnovers. The two largely go hand in hand. On Sunday afternoon, we saw how an effective pass rush trickled down: Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen was forced to get rid of the ball, and the secondary played better when it wasn’t tasked with covering for long periods of time.

The 49ers produced three sacks, though none of them came in the fourth quarter. Rosen progressively had more time to throw, fueling his best professional performance — 252 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

San Francisco’s first points of the day came when Rosen was forced to throw the ball into the dirt in his own end-zone, leading to an intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a safety.

Two possessions later, Tartt picked off Rosen and ran the ball back for 23 yards. It was San Francisco’s second interception of the season — Tartt,’s backup, Antone Exum had a pick-six in Week 4 — and its first forced turnover since Week 4. But the 49ers failed to capitalize, setting for a field goal despite starting their drive in the red-zone.

For the majority of the game, the Cardinals offense went conservative under offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who called his first game in his new role. The 49ers defense took advantage and prevented Arizona from ever finding an offensive rhythm. But the Cardinals opened up their offense late, and the 49ers wilted.

The 49ers defense was not to blame for the loss, despite a poor final drive.

With exception to Marquise Goodwin’s touchdown, the 49ers offense struggled

Marquise Goodwin provided the play of the day. With more than six minutes left in the third quarter, C.J. Beathard hit Goodwin on a slant, and he turned a short pass upfield for a 55-yard touchdown.

Prior to that, the 49ers had not hit a big play all game. The offense flowed through Matt Breida, who had 16 carries for just 42 yards. Beathard never found a rhythm, completing 14 of 28 passes for 190 yards. He under-threw Goodwin on a 40-yard throw midway through the fourth quarter, allowing Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson to catch up and swat the ball away. Aside from Goodwin’s long score, the 49ers receivers produced just eight catches for 78 yards. Last week, they had just five total catches for 35 yards.

Pierre Garcon did not play due to knee and shoulder injuries. The 49ers returned rookie Dante Pettis, who had not played since Week 4, but he did not record a catch. He also muffed a punt that the 49ers were fortunate to recover.

In recent weeks, if Goodwin did not bust a big play, the 49ers struggled to move the ball in spurts. In Week 6, Goodwin had touchdowns of 67 and 30 yards.

On Sunday, the lack of chunk plays made things hard for the 49ers offense.

Injuries come at a bad time

The 49ers suffered several injuries in the first half, from Reuben Foster, Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin, of course, returned and affected the game. Witherspoon also re-entered the game.

Foster (hamstring) and Tartt (shoulder) did not return. Antone Exum replaced Tartt at strong safety, then Exum, too left the game with concussion-like systems. Tyvis Powell replaced Exum. Powell struggled in coverage but forced a the fumble late in the game.

The 49ers match up with the Oakland Raiders Thursday night, leaving these players abbreviated time to recover.



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