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GLENDALE, Ariz. — As ugly as it started, it ended even uglier for the 49ers, who lost their sixth straight game Sunday and had a win slip from their grasp in the final minute.
The 49ers blew a 15-3, fourth-quarter lead against the the league’s worst offense as the Arizona Cardinals rallied for an 18-15 victory.
“It’s tough. Guys are really hurting in there and they should be. If they weren’t, something’s wrong with them,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “This is their job. It’s what we do, our livelihood.”
Next up for the 49ers (1-7) is a Thursday night visit by the Raiders (1-7) at Levi’s Stadium. Sunday, the 49ers and Cardinals both entered 1-6 and both looked like lousy, one-win teams most of the game.
“We’re not happy at all with where this season’s gone and there’s still a half a season to play,” Shanahan added. “We need to step it up. The season’s not ending. We’re not going to sit here and run away. I want guys who are going to come out fight. And I thought we did fight today. We just didn’t do it well enough.”
“They made more plays than us down the stretch,” cornerback Richard Sherman said.
Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes in the Cardinals’ comeback, capped by a 13-yard pass with 34 seconds remaining to Christian Kirk, who slipped past Tyvis Powell and took a hard shot from Jimmie Ward under the goal posts.
Of course, a 15-3 lead wasn’t exactly safe with Larry Fitzgerald on the field. He made a 13-yard touchdown catch against Powell with 11:06 remaining, after earlier hauling in a 37-yard catch against Sherman on that drive.
It was Fitzgerald’s 18th touchdown against the 49ers, more than any opponent in history against them. He had eight catches for 102 yards.
If Shanahan’s game plan was conservative to limit turnovers, that would be understandable, seeing how the 49ers committed 12 turnovers in their past three defeats and five in their 28-18 loss to the Cardinals three weeks ago. But the 49ers offense converted only 5 of 14 third-down plays and totaled only 267 yards, their second straight game below 300 yards.
“Nothing really conservative about it. It’s just what we were doing wasn’t quite working,” said Beathard, who fell to 0-5 as the starter in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo.
It took nearly 40 minutes for the game’s first touchdown, but when it came, it was a beauty by the 49ers Marquise Goodwin, who caught a slant pass against All-Pro Patrick Peterson and raced 55 yards to the end zone for a 12-3 lead.
It marked the fifth straight season the 49ers have been swept in the home-and-away series by the Cardinals.
Said Fitzgerald: “Anytime you can beat the 49ers, for me, that’s the biggest win in our division. They’re the most storied franchise in our division. They’ve won multiple Super Bowls. .. To be able to put together a little streak that we have against them (10 straight wins), it means a lot.”
1. FINAL DRIVES: How in the heck did the 49ers defense give up a go-ahead touchdown drive in the final two minutes. Well, it really started when Fitzgerald came through with a third-and-11 conversion catch at the 2-minute warning, followed by a 20-yard Fitzgerald catch at the 49ers’ 42.
Then Rosen mixed it up with completions to other four receivers not named Fitzgerald, although he did have a two-point conversion catch following Kirk’s go-ahead touchdown catch.
So how did the 49ers respond? Well, they got to the Cardinals 45, and then ended the game in fitting fashion: Erik Magnuson’s shotgun snap sailed over Beathard’s head, and even though he retrieved it 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, his final desperation pass fluttered into the turf as time expired. Magnuson made his starting debut in place of an injured Weston Richburg, and that typified this season of replacement players unable to excel.
2. CAUTIOUS QB: All those previous turnovers (10) and sacks (14) in his four previous starts seemed to make C.J. Beathard extremely unsettled from the outset. Sacked a career-high seven times by the Rams last game, Beathard got sacked on each of Sunday’s first three possessions and looked shell-shocked.
The barrage of sacks slowed until Beathard got taken down on third down with 2:23 remaining. He finished 14-of-28 for 190 yards and an 83.9 passer rating. But he had no turnovers for the first time in five starts.
Before his touchdown pass to Goodwin, Beathard was 6-of-15 for 58 yards, missing high and low on incompletions while also not seeing some receivers break open against the Cardinals.
3. TRADE OUTLOOK: Wide receiver Pierre Garçon is the most probable 49ers to get traded before Tuesday’s 1 p.m. deadline. “Teams have talked about him and it is a possibility but nothing for sure right now,” Shanahan said.
Garçon did not suit up because of shoulder and knee injuries. “We’d love Pierre back. We’re just trying to get his knee healthy, he’s very close and we expect him to be good for Thursday night,” Shanahan added.
Ward also has drawn interest from multiple teams, according to a Sports Illustrated report, but the versatile defensive back said he was unaware he was on the market and that Shanahan had not talked about it with him.
Asked if these remaining games could help sharpen his skills as he converts back to safety, Ward replied: “Yeah, if I don’t get traded by Tuesday. I’ve just got to go back in the film, learn from (secondary) coach (Jeff) Hafley and clean up some my technique stuff at safety, if they want me at safety.”
4. CRITICAL REVIEW: When the 49ers won their replay challenge with 4:44 on a fumble recovery, it had to be the biggest in Shanahan’s 1 1/2 seasons as coach. Problem is, the 49ers offense couldn’t do much with the ball, Beathard got sacked and had to punt it away two minutes later.
Upon review, officials acknowledged Ward did not touch the ball while out of bounds, a ball that Jermaine Grisham fumbled on a 17-yard reception. Thus, the 49ers took possession at their 31-yard line. While officials reviewed the play, Ward and the 49ers defense celebrated wildly upon seeing it on the stadium’s video boards.
It was the 49ers’ second takeaway of the game, a significant total considering they entered with only two fumble recoveries and an interception in their first seven games.
5. DEFENSIVE STRIDES: The horrible finish ruined what Sherman called the 49ers defense’s most sound game of the season, including three sacks before hafltime and two takeaways. That said, the Cardinals did rally with the league’s worst offense, a rookie quarterback (Josh Rosen) and a new offensive coordinator (Byron Leftwich).
But it certainly was encouraging to see Jaquiski Tartt produce only the second interception this season by the 49ers, and it led to a go-ahead field goal in the final minutes of the first half. Beathard wasn’t the only tentative quarterback on the field, as Rosen took three sacks before halftime (Ronald Blair, Richard Sherman, Arik Armstead) and also committed an intentional-grounding penalty for a safety when pressured by Cassius Marsh.
Injuries impacted the defense. Tartt left with a shoulder injury the series after his interception, and Reuben Foster hurt his right hamstring on a third-down pass rush in the second quarter. Antone Exum, Tartt’s replacement, left with a concussion with 12 minutes remaining.
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