49ers battle Arizona, come up short

The San Francisco 49ers seemed to fight two opponents on the field Sunday.

A flag-happy officiating crew undermined a solid defensive effort against the high-flying Arizona Cardinals in a 19-13 win over the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers were flagged for 13 penalties costing them 81 yards on the day, giving QB Carson Palmer and the Cardinals new life while trying to break the 49ers defense, who limited the Cardinals to 328 yards on the day.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.

Four penalties came in a single goal line stand in the second quarter, and a questionable roughing the passer call in the fourth cost the 49ers 14 points while sinking their chance to upset the NFC’s leading offense.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

The penalty-spree from the referees had an undeniably negative effect on the 49ers end result, sparking outrage in OL Alex Boone, who held nothing back while discussing the officiating crew after the game:

“How many pass interference calls did we have at one time, four? Five? It’s football, it’s a violent game. A lot of people don’t want to play it, let us play it.”

Boone added:

I thought those refs sucked … You call running into a player when no one even touched you. If you don’t like what we say then don’t like what we say. Don’t throw a flag for it. That’s what I’m sick about with this league. This is supposed to be a man’s game. Be a man. And that’s what pisses me off, is that guys like that work in this league and work on this field and we have to deal with it. Whatever, it was a terrible call, they had terrible calls all game. I don’t care what the league says, I don’t care what Roger says, it’s the truth. If you don’t like it, get the hell out of here.”

Boone will most likely hear exactly what commissioner Goodell has to say about it later in the week in the form of a fine, but his fiery point stands.

Both the penalty-ridden goal line stand and a costly roughing the passer penalty on Quinton Dial — whom appeared to have hit Palmer square in the chest — directly led to Arizona touchdowns.

Boone’s teammate S Eric Reid was among those flagged on the costly goal line stand and took a more diplomatic approach:

“It’s not in my care to blame the refs, but man, there was some questionable calls. Some very questionable ones. What can you do. If they throw the flags, there’s nothing you can do about it but play the next play.”

Blaine Gabbert turned in yet another solid effort for the 49ers, throwing for 268 yards on 22-of-31 completions, while managing the ball much better than his predecessor did in the team’s first meeting.

The newly-cemented signal caller outshined Palmer, who finished with 260 yards on 23 completions, but couldn’t finish a late-game comeback after WR Anquan Boldin came up two yards short of a first down on a 4th-and-20 to close the game.

Gabbert wasn’t perfect — throwing one interception and taking an ill-advised third-down sack on the final drive — but he was light years beyond from QB Colin Kaepernick’s 67-yard, four-interception outing earlier in the season.

Despite his best effort and the officiating intangibles, Gabbert looked to take the blame for the loss post-game:

“All you can ask for is the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. That’s what it came down to. I failed to put a touchdown on the board, and that’s on me.”

Sunday’s contest began much like these teams’ last meeting in Week 3, with San Francisco turnovers leading to easy points for the Cardinals.

After a solid defensive series forced an early punt from Arizona, 49ers WR Bruce Ellington would muff a booming punt from P Drew Butler near the 49ers own 40-yard line.

The mishap gave the Cardinals’ high-power offense new life, which they turned into three points on a Chandler Catanzaro field goal after San Francisco was able to stave off a third-down pass attempt into the end zone.

Turnovers would continue to derail San Francisco’s offense. After picking Colin Kaepernick twice in their Week 3 matchup, Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu would introduce himself to the 49ers new starter with his first interception of Gabbert just across midfield.

San Francisco’s defense bent but would not break for a second straight series, as another red zone opportunity ended in just three points for Arizona.

Catanzaro’s second field goal of the day was a gift,however, as 49ers CB Tramaine Brock dropped a wide-open interception in the end zone on a third down play, allowing Catanzaro to put through his try on fourth down for a 6-0 lead.

Despite the 49ers defense holding the league leaders in total yardage to just six points on 128 total first-half yards, San Francisco’s conservative offensive play calling hindered their attempts to take the lead.

After Gabbert’s interception, the 49ers would run just seven plays for 15 yards, with most of that coming on handoffs and underneath routes.

With the crowd beginning the familiar groans that often fill Levi’s Stadium these days, Jim Tomsula elected to take the reins off the 49ers offense on their final drive of the half, leading to their first points of the game.

Gabbert responded nicely after his interception, pushing the ball downfield through the air while completing 7-of-10 passes —  including a fourth down pickup to RB Shaun Draughn — to set up a 53-yard Phil Dawson field goal, cutting the lead to 6-3 before heading into the locker room.

But the 49ers defense — who had played an error-free half of football heading into the locker room — was adorned with a a myriad of yellow flags, leading to the game’s first touchdown.

San Francisco was flagged four times in the end zone, with three pass interference penalties on LB Michael Wilhoite, CB Jimmie Ward and S Eric Reid, and one illegal use of hands on Brock to hand the Cardinals four fresh sets of downs.

The extra downs proved to be the charm for Arizona, as RB David Johnson would plunge one-yard up the gut for the afternoon’s first touchdown and a 13-3 lead.

But the 49ers offense would pick up their disgruntled counterparts, with Gabbert leading a tight end heavy drive that would see him connect on a 48-yard pass to Blake Bell before finding Vance McDonald for an eight-yard touchdown.

Gabbert would continue to air it out, this time to his wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith — who combined for 58-yards on two catches — before a 33-yard chip shot from Dawson tied the game up at 13-13 near the end of the third.

The 49ers would continue to stymy the Cardinals offense throughout much of the fourth quarter, until once again the officials changed the course of the game with a pair of questionable calls.

Much like their second-quarter blunder, the 49ers defensive effort was undermined by a pair of costly penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee ran into Torrey Smith on the sidelines, and a roughing the passer penalty against Quinton Dial on a sack of Palmer.

Both penalties looked to be suspect, and both would breathe new life into the Cardinals offense with time winding down.

Palmer once again made good use of his renewed drive, putting the finishing touches on the go-ahead score himself by plunging into the end zone on a seven-yard scramble to give his team the final 19-13 lead.

Gabbert and the 49ers offense would have one final chance to win the game. The 49ers started the drive off promisingly, with big pickups by Draughn and McDonald moving the ball quickly and efficiently.

But San Francisco hit a wall after moving past midfield, as a sack forced a 4-and-20 situation. Gabbert would make an attempt to move the chains, but ended up two yards short of the first-down marker on a Boldin reception.


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