For the second week in a row, the San Francisco 49ers fell behind big on the road early and were unable to recover. Sunday, they dropped to 1-2 after getting drubbed by the Cardinals in their first divisional game, 47-7.
It was never close.
Arizona’s first 14 points came on defensive touchdowns, on San Francisco's first two possessions.
The first touchdown came from cornerback Justin Bethel on the 49ers’ first drive, when Kaepernick tried to hit tight end Vernon Davis with a throw off his back foot. Kaepernick was pressured by two Arizona pass rushers, allowing Bethel to jump on Davis’ route and return the interception 21 yards.
Four plays later, Kaepernick was looking for receiver Anquan Boldin to his right, but Tyrann Mathieu undercut the throw and returned it 33 yards to make it 14-0. Kaepernick tried to make the throw off his back foot, again, taking velocity off the ball. Mathieu notched his second interception late in half.
Kaepernick came into Sunday's game after having one of his better statistical games of his career, when he threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns while completing 33 of 46. However, the Steelers jumped out to a 29-3 lead in that game and many of Kaepernick's yards came when the game was already in hand for Pittsburgh.
Kaepernick finished Sunday's game with 67 passing yards, completing 9 of 19 with four interceptions. Despite being down for the entire game, the struggles of the passing game led to offensive coordinator Geep Chryst sticking with run.
After the 49ers punted on their third possession, running back Chris Johnson scored his first touchdown with his new team, culminating a 10-play, 81-yard drive from six yards out. That made it 21-0, marking the second straight week the 49ers fell down by three scores in the first half. On Arizona's next drive, Johnson scored again, from one yard out, making it 28-0. Johnson ran for 63 yards on his first 10 carries.
Kaepernick got the 49ers on the board with a 12-yard touchdown run just before the two-minute warning in the first half, set up by Jarryd Hayne's 37-yard punt return. It was Hayne's longest punt return of the regular season, and Kaepernick's first red-zone rushing touchdown since Jan. 12, 2014's playoff win over the Carolina Panthers. His only rushing TD of last season went for 90 yards in Week 16 against the Chargers.
Running back Carlos Hyde finished with 51 yards on 15 carries, while Kaepernick added 46 yards on seven runs. Carson Palmer finished with 311 yards passing, completing 20 of 32 with two touchdowns. He threw his second interception of the season to cornerback Kenneth Acker late in the first half. The Cardinals added a 22-yard field goal as the first half expired, following Mathieu's second interception.
On the 49ers' first play of the second half, Kaepernick threw an interception to cornerback Jarraud Powers on an underthrown ball, looking for Torrey Smith deep down the field.
With the ball at their own 42, it only took four plays for the Cardinals to score again. Palmer found Johnson for a 40-yard catch-and-run down to San Francisco's 4-yard line. The next play Larry Fitzgerald, scored on a pass over the middle, giving him 103 yards receiving on the day. He added the Cardinals' final touchdown on an eight-yard screen in the fourth quarter, giving him five scores in his last two games. He finished with nine catches and 134 yards.
The Cardinals also notched a safety in the third quarter, when the Hyde couldn't get out of the end zone on a running play from the 1-yard line. Arizona improved to 3-0 to continue their early-season lead in the NFC West.
The 49ers host another top-shelf quarterback next week when they take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Levi's Stadium.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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