Cardinals shove 49ers into NFC West basement

It was another week, another collapse for the San Francisco 49ers, as the Arizona Cardinals’ offense scored 17 second half points to cap a 23-14 comeback Sunday afternoon.

The 49ers were held scoreless during the second half, as backup quarterback Drew Stanton stood in solidly for the injured Carson Palmer, completing 18-of-33 passes for 244 yards while hooking up with rookie receiver John Brown for two touchdown passes.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick recovered from his four-turnover game last week against the Bears with a 29-for-37 passes, 245-yard outing while rushing for 54 yards. He failed once again, though, to lead his team to any points in the second half for his second consecutive loss.

The lack of second-half production on offense ultimately sunk the 49ers chance of winning Sunday’s game. Penalty woes also continue to plague the team, with San Francisco being flagged for 107 total penalty yards in the contest, many coming in critical situations.

In a crucial divisional matchup, it was the Arizona Cardinals who struck first against the visiting 49ers.

Drew Stanton converted a third down pass to WR Michael Floyd for a 36-yard reception to keep Arizona’s drive alive, but the home team’s drive stalled short of the goal line, forcing a 51-yard field goal from kicker Chandler Catanzaro for an early 3-0 lead.

For the third consecutive week in a row, the 49ers opened up the game with a strong offensive showing. Kaepernick had been listed on the 49ers’ injury report all week with a back injury, but he stemmed any lingering concerns during his opening drive by showing off his mobility with three carries for 19 yards.

Kaepernick’s impressive opening drive ended with a touchdown pass to WR Michael Crabtree, who hauled in a goal line catch after receiving a pick from Anquan Boldin to free him up for a 2-yard touchdown.

The Cardinals displayed their offensive aggression during the second drive with an early fourth-and-one conversion on their own 44-yard line, with Stanton converting the risky play on a quarterback keep.

Cornerbacks Jimmie Ward and Chris Culliver made consecutive standout plays in the end zone to hold Arizona to another Catanzaro field goal.

But the 49ers would rebut with another drive of their own, with WR Stevie Johnson hauling in a short pass on fourth down to keep the march alive.

Kaepernick used both his arms and his legs to set up a goal line situation for the second drive in a row. After being stymied for much of last week’s game, rookie running back Carlos Hyde got the chance to redeem himself, capping off the 80-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to extend the 49ers lead to 14-6.

After stopping the 49ers to force an Andy Lee punt to open the third quarter, the Cardinals offense strung together a pair of big plays to find the end zone for the first time to bridge the scoring gap.

Stanton converted a pair of deep passes, one to Floyd for 45 yards after Culliver overran the receiver, and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brown to bring the Cardinals to within one San Francisco.

The 49ers’ collapse began to rear its head on the Cardinals second offensive drive of the quarter, as the defensive unit again saw costly penalty flags that would lead to an Arizona score.

The troubles began after LB Dan Skuta was called for unnecessary roughness after laying a hard hit on Stanton, who had just begun his slide after scrambling with the ball. The call was seemingly ambiguous, as Skuta, who lead with his shoulder, hit Stanton before he reached the ground.

The Cardinals would gain another free 15 yards on the following play, after LB Patrick Willis received a penalty for roughing the passer after a heavy hit on Stanton in the pocket.

Stanton would use his free 30 yards efficiently, finding Brown on third down for his second touchdown of the game, a 21-yard score against the coverage of safety Antoine Bethea and Ward.

After penalties derailed an otherwise strong defensive effort, the 49ers offense followed suit by shooting themselves in the foot with costly flags.

Kaepernick drove San Francisco deep into the red zone following a reception by Anquan Boldin near the 5-yard line, but the feisty receiver came up hot, receiving a 15-yard penalty for head butting following the catch.

The 49ers would be backed up again after tackle Jonathan Martin was called for clipping.  The consecutive penalties would stall the drive, setting up what would be 45-yard field goal from kicker Phil Dawson.

But the Cardinals special teams delivered in crunch time by blocking the field goal attempt and recovering the ball at the Arizona 47-yard line for Stanton and the offense.

Arizona looked poised to break the game open with yet another red zone opportunity, but Bethea and Wilhoite jarred the ball loose from WR Larry Fitzgerald after he caught the ball near the 5-yard line to be recovered by Perrish Cox.

The turnover gave the 49ers one final chance to drive down the field with just under seven minutes left in the game. But a second-down sack on Kaepernick backed San Francisco into a long third-and-19, with the offense unable to convert.

Taking over with 3:57 left, the Cardinals led a nine-play, 3-minute 27-second drive that ended with another Catanzaro field goal and a two-score lead, 23-14.

The 3-0 Cardinals have proved to be a formidable opponent in the tough NFC West division, though the 49ers lack of second half offense was the deciding factor in the ballgame for the second week in a row.

The 49ers return home to Levi’s Stadium to take on the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at 1:25 p.m. as they look to turn around an abysmal 1-2 start to the 2014 season.
Game Notes:

QB Colin Kaepernick’s 29 completions and 78.4 completion percentage are both new career high’s. He finished the game with a QB rating of 103.3. WR Stevie Johnson had his first 100-yard receiving game, finishing with 9 receptions for 103-yards. The 49ers have outscored their opponents 59-16 in the first half over their last three games. However, they have only scored three second half points in that same span.


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