SANTA CLARA – The 49ers were trending in the right direction following last week’s 33-22 win against the Chicago Bears, but today they slipped hard on a banana peel and lost losing to the the Arizona Cardinals 31-17.
“They stepped up,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We knew they had to. When you lose some your best players, it’s not easy. But that’s how this league is. Guys stepped up and made big plays all day.”
The Cardinals were without the availability of starting quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green but didn’t have any problems completing the season series sweep against the 49ers who are now 3-5.
Running back James Conner was the focal point for Arizona’s offense, running for two scores in the first half giving the Cardinals an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Conner’s 45-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Colt McCoy on the first drive of the third quarter for a 24-7 lead that put the game out of reach.
Conner bludgeoned San Francisco, finishing with 173 yards from scrimmage and a career-high three touchdowns. Conner leads the NFL with 11 touchdowns this season.
“This is a solid team,” said Conner. “When the stars go down, other players got to step up. That’s what this team did tonight.”
McCoy was nearly flawless for Arizona, completing 22-of-26 passing attempts for 249 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Christian Kirk led the Cardinals with six catches for 91 yards, with most of the damage coming on a 50-yard connection from McCoy in the second quarter setting up a 26-yard field goal by Matt Prater that staked the Cardinals to a 17-0 lead.
“We hit on some big plays that really changed the game,” McCoy said. “Kliff got me in a rhythm early. James ran the ball hard. I just didn’t want to come in here and turn the ball over. We didn’t and you win games that way. I’m benefiting from being on a great team and I’m really glad to get out there on the field and guys can help me pull through.”
Arizona’s offense racked up 437 yards against a shaky 49ers defense that was pushed around all day. The Cardinals dominated time of possession 36:47 to 23:13 for San Francisco.
The 49ers offense was stuck in neutral in the first half, fumbling on a pair of possessions in the first half that led to 10 points for Arizona.
“We didn’t play very well today at all,” said coach Kyle Shanahan. “I was real disappointed. I thought we’d played really well. We had a good week of practice that we’d even improved from the week prior, but obviously it didn’t go that way.”
For the second straight week, Jimmy Garoppolo played well enough to win, throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns, but San Francisco’s running game was nonexistence mustering just 39 yards on the ground.
“I mean, slow start, I think put us behind the eight-ball from the get-go,” Garoppolo said. “I think when you’re playing like that, it’s always tough. But yeah, that’s where it starts. And just throughout the game, there’s just a little mess ups here and their that turnovers killed us. Just little things like that.”
Garoppolo did throw an interception with three minutes left in the game, cementing the 49ers fifth loss in their last six games. One week after committing no turnovers, not putting a sack against the Bears, the San Francisco did all those things on the first drive. Linebacker Markus Golden recorded a sack on third-down that led to a punt.
“Yeah, we were going to play hard no matter what,” said Golden. “That’s our job. This is the NFL. You can add a little more motivation, you can say, you wanted to get out there and win for your guys without having your best player out there, but we were going to play hard no matter what.”
Tight end George Kittle returned to the lineup after missing the past three games with a calf injury, finished with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Kittle fumbled on a 18-yard catch on the first play of the 49ers’ second possession that was recovered by linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Aiyuk had his best game of the year, recording six catches for 89 yards and touchdown. Like Kittle, Aiyuk fumbled inside Arizona’s territory that was recovered again by Hicks. The 49ers had two potential scoring drives wasted by turnovers.
San Francisco have become an embarrassment at home, winless in four home games this season and are just 1-8 at Levi’s Stadium the past two seasons. Good teams win at home and the 49ers can’t seem to buy a home win.
“Yeah. I don’t know. It’s a tough one,” Garoppolo said. “We’ve talked about it. We’ve addressed it, but we’ve just got to fix something. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, whether it’s focus at home. I don’t know.”
Now four games behind the Cardinals in the NFC West, the 49ers season is spiraling in a downward abyss. They can’t afford anymore more loses if they are going to make a late season run at the playoffs.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier next the 49ers host the Los Angeles Rams (7-1) next Monday night on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
“Our crowd deserves it [a win] though because they’re out there screaming, yelling. They get loud for us, the faithful. And so we’ve got to play better for them.”
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