SFI's LIVE Game Blog: 49ers vs. Cardinals

The 49ers' 2008 journey into the unknown begins in full force with today's pivotal season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, and SFI editor in chief Craig Massei will keep you up to date on the action between the NFC West rivals with live reports ands commentary from Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Make sure to refresh this page every 15 minutes for running updates throughout the game.

12:30 p.m. Greetings, 49ers fans. Ah, there's nothing like September football in San Francisco. Not when the weather is like this – unseasonably warm conditions, a nice cooling breeze shuffling into Candlestick Park every now and then. And yes, it's nice to be calling it Candlestick Park again after the 3Com Park/Monster Park name travesty of the past decade or so. Now maybe the 49ers can start playing like this is Candlestick Park, too. Get it? ...

12:35: The 49ers's inactives for today are QB Alex Smith, cornerbacks Marcus Hudson, Tarell Brown and Reggie Smith, linebacker Ahmad Brooks, offensive linemen Cody Wallace and Chilo Rachal and linebacker Tully-Banta Cain. TBC?? Wow, that's a big drop for that guy, who was a front-line starter last year after coming over from New England as a free agent. Banta-Cain was one of San Francisco's key defensive starters during last year's opener. This time around, he's a healthy scratch and doesn't even dress for the game. Yikes ...

12:50: Just got through talking to a high-ranking 49ers official. The subject was Alex Smith. "It's just bad luck," he said. "Alex is really hurt. He's hurt bad." Smith just talked briefly with the media members on the field. He said he had a MRI two nights ago on his re-injured throwing shoulder and results are being sent to Birmingham, Ala., surgeon James Andrews, the man who performed the procedure to repair Smith's separated right shoulder last December. Smith wouldn't talk specifics about whether his shoulder is fractured, which is now being widely reported. Smith, wearing his red warmup sweats, said he will find out the specifics of injury on Monday and whether or not it is season-ending. "I don't know anything definitive right now," Smith said. "As soon as I know … (I) should find out what the plan is tomorrow." It's not sounding too good ...

1:07: The 49ers are being introduced to much pomp and pageantry. There are explosions, smoke and loud jets flying overhead. Let's just hope their offense can create such a bang ...

1:13: Season captains Walt Harris, Eric Heitmann, Michael Roinson and Patrick Willis trot out to midfield for the opening coin toss. The Cardinals win the toss and will defer to the 49ers, who elect to receive, and that is as it should be since everybody wants to see what J.T. O'Sullivan and the offense can do right away ...

1:18: Alas, it can't do much. After a nice pickup on first down by Frank Gore, O'Sullivan rolls right and can't find anybody, tossing the ball out of bounds. On third down, in the shotgun, he fires over the head of a double-covered Josh Morgan. The crowd already sounds restless after the first three-and-out of the season ...

1:23: Andy Lee sends a booming punt to Steve Breaston and Manny Lawson makes a great play in coverage to drop Breaston near the Arizona 30, but Jeff Ulbrich is flagged for being illegally down the field. The 49ers have to kick over, and Lee drops the snap, then hastily sends up a short, low spiral that Breaston returns 17 yards to the San Francsco 40. And that's where the Cardinals start their first offensive series instead of some 30 yards down the field the other way ...

1:26: Arizona marches quickly to a first-and-goal, but that's where the revamped San Franciso defense stiffens. Dashon Goldson and Patrick Willis make a nice play in coverage, converging on tight end Leonard Pope as the ball arrives on third down in the end zone, and the Cardinals have to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Neil Rackers. It could have been worse. Still, not a great start for the 49ers after the first exchange of the football ...
Cardinals 3, 49ers 0

1:29: A short return of the ensuing kickoff by Allen Rossum is made even worse by an illegal block, moving the 49ers back to their own 5-yard line to begin their second possession …

1:33: Oh, man. This is not looking good. In fact, it's looking horrible. On the first play of the series, Gore follows quick-pulling guard Tony Wragge around the left side, and this looks like it could be some big yards. But Gore runs into the back of Wragge's right leg as he cuts inside the block, then FUMBLES without being hit as he goes down. Ahh!! There's a mad scramble for the football, but fortunately the 49ers recover. They're not so fortunate on the next play. O'Sullivan drops back and completes his first pass to fullback Zak Keasey over the middle, but as Keasey turns upfield, he is absolutely blasted by Darnell Dockett and coughs up the ball – that's TWO FUMBLES by the 49ers in TWO PLAYS. This time, Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby recovers, and the Cards have the ball at San Francisco 11. Catastrophe is lurking right around the corner …

1:36: Or maybe it isn't. The Cardinals get stopped just short on a third-and-8 pass, and then are pushed back 15 yards by a late hit on lineman Mike Gandy, who took a cheap shot in the back on Patrick Willis. Rackers lines up now for 35-yard field goal instead of an easy chip shot and … He misses it! Rackers misses the easy 35-yard chip shot! What a break for the 49ers. Rackers pushes the kick to the right, and the 49ers survive the egregious turnover without allowing a point …

1:38: Bad news for the 49ers. Center Eric Heitmann – the team's most consistent offensive linemen – has a shoulder injury and went into the locker room for X-rays. Oh, no. So Wragge will slide over to center, and David Baas will take his place at right guard. Nothing wrong with getting Baas in the game, that's for sure. This guy can play.

1:41: Now the 49ers have something going on offense. O'Sullivan looks a little more settled in now and – after two nice runs by Gore pick up San Francisco's initial first down – O'Sullivan fires over the middle for a 16-yard gain to Bryant Johnson that moves the 49ers into Arizona territory. Two plays later, Gore takes a handoff and follows Keasey over the right side. Keasey crushed a linebacker, Baas gets a great seal block inside and Gore shoots through the middle. He cuts to the left and … Gore's gone!! He slips back to the inside and nobody's going to catch him! It's a 41-yard burst into the end zone, and just like that, the 49ers have assumed the lead as Joe Nedney tacks on the PAT …
49ers 7, Cardinals 3

1:46: The 49ers stuff Warner on a third-and-1 QB sneak from the Arizona 21, and the Cardinals have to punt. Another fine effort by the San Francisco defense, and the 49ers are quickly assuming command. San Francisco takes over at its own 20 for its next possession …

1:53: The drive starts out well as O'Sullivan deftly hits DeShaun Foster out of the backfield for a 12-yard gain on third-and-2 and the 49ers are moving. Now facing third-and-3 near midfield, O'Sullivan slips around the pocket, and it looks like he can run for the first down. But no. He stops and fires over the middle, where Arnaz Battle is open. But O'Sullivan doesn't see safety Adrian Wilson, who swoops in from the deep middle and picks off the pass. Wilson returns the interception to the San Francisco 33, setting up the Arizona offense yet again in San Francisco territory. A second turnover for the 49ers, and a pass O'Sullivan can't make. He has to read that safety that deep into a play …

1:58: But the SF defense holds yet again. On third-and-6, it's a jailbreak, and Warner runs out of time in the pocket quickly as Justin Smith and Parys Haralson converge on him. The sack puts the Cardinals back at their 36-yard line and out of field goal range, and they punt. The defense is doing a stellar job as the first quarter comes to an end …

2:17: The 49ers can't convert a third-and-2 deep in their territory and have to give the ball back to the Cardinals. This time, the Arizona offense gets it going. Facing third-and-7 from the San Francisco 41, Warner goes deep to Breaston, who works his way wide open along the right side. Breaston catches the ball inside the 10 and stretches for the end zone before he's knocked out of bounds by Goldson at the 1. On the next play, Warner lobs a fade pass to Larry Fitzgerald, who easily out-jumps a turned-around Nate Clements and grabs the ball without much interference for a touchdown that puts the Cards back in the lead …
Cardinals 10, 49ers 7

2:20: Wow, look at this! The moment Vernon Davis has been waiting for. Davis gets open over the deep middle, and O'Sullivan hits him in stride. It's a 37-yard gain to the Arizona 20, and the 49ers are knocking on the door already for more points …

2:24: So much for the knocking. O'Sullivan drops back to pass on first down, and just as he's about to release the ball and move his arm forward, Bertrand Berry comes racing around the back side to knock the ball out of his hands. Berry beat left tackle Joe Staley on the play, and Arizona recovers the fumble. Mike Nolan challenges the play, but replays indicate Berry slapped at the ball before O'Sullivan's arm went forward, and the play stands. What a missed opportunity for the 49ers, who were in easy field goal range. And that's three turnovers now for the San Francisco offense, two of them by O'Sullivan …

2:28: But the Cardinals, starting at their own 37, take advantage of the opportunity. They get some nice runs by James to take the ball into San Francisco territory, but on third-and-6 from the 41, Warner is sacked by Haralson for a 7-yard loss with some help form Ray McDonald. Arizona has to give it up …

2:34: There go the 49ers again, right down the field. On second-and-8, Gore takes a short dump pass over the middle, and dances his way for a 14-yard gain. Now O'Sullivan is going deep, and he finds Johnson over the middle for a 31-yard gain to take the 49ers into Arizona territory. Another first down comes on a nice throwback pattern to the right side, where Davis is wide open and takes the ball down to the Arizona 30 …

2:38: But facing third-and-1 at the 21, San Francisco's play-calling turns curious. Instead of just blasting the ball up the middle with Gore, the 49ers put O'Sullivan back in shotgun formation, and a slow-developing play results in a weak incompletion when O'Sullivan short-hops a well-covered Morgan. The 49ers line up like they're going for it on fourth down – they're not – and O'Sullivan can't draw the Arizona defense offsides. The 49ers settle for a 39-yard field-goal attempt by Joe Nedney, and he drills it to the tie the score with 1:52 remaining in the half. But this drive could have produced more …
49ers 10, Cardinals 10

2:45: The Cardinals can't do anything with their final possession of the half. It's a three-and-out, but the 49ers are out of timeouts – taking their last before Nedney's field goal – so O'Sullivan takes a knee after the Arizona punt with just two seconds on the scoreboard. That sends the 49ers into the locker room in a 10-10 at the intermission in a game that is just dying for somebody to take command …

2:54: The 49ers no doubt are wondering what might have been in the first half. They produced 219 yards of total offense – not bad for the NFL's reigning worst attack – but the three turnovers thwarted what could have been a high-scoring first half for the home team. Gore already has 80 yards rushing at the intermission, and O'Sullivan is a tidy 10 of 14 through the air for 141 yards passing …

2:59: Nedney steps into the second-half kickoff and the Cardinals have the ball at their own 22 to start as the third quarter begins …

3:04: The Cardinals come out passing, and the 49ers put good heat on Warner to force two quick completions. But on third down, Warner has more time, and he finds Anquan Boldin over the middle to move the chains. And then again for another first down that gets the ball to midfield. And then, on third-and-long, Warner gets the ball off just in time and finds Breaston over the middle to take the ball to the San Francisco 35, his third consecutive third-down conversion …

3:06: The Cardinals have obviously made some halftime adjustments and are confounding the 49ers now with crossing patterns to Boldin and Fitzgerald. An 18-yard catch-and-run by Bolding gives the Cardinals a first-and-goal from the 8. But a penalty pushes Arizona back to the 20, and now it's first-and-goal from there …

3:08: Third-and-goal from the 6 now. Huge, huge play. Warner drops back and looks left, where Fitzgerald and Boldin both are trying to work open. But Haralson breaks around the right side for another sack! He blindsides Warner, who is looking the other way, and it's a seven-yard loss. It's 15-play, 65-yard drive for the Cardinals that ate 6:35 off the clock, but they have to settle for another short Rackers field goal, this one from 31 yards, that gives Arizona the lead …
Cardinals 13, 49ers 10

3:11: And then … DISASTER. If the 49ers don't prevail today, this play will be a big reason why. On the ensuing kickoff, Rackers pooches a kick to the right side. Takeo Spikes isn't ready for it and makes a feeble attempt to field the pop-up. The ball bounces off his chest and forward, where a whole bunch of Cardinals have a shot at the ball. And they get it. What a flubb by the 49ers, not to mention a fourth San Francisco turnover. The Cardinals have the ball at the San Francisco 33 and are in position to take command …

3:17: The resilient San Francisco defense stiffens again, and Haralson and McDonald get to Warner on third-and-long forcing him into another incompletion from the 21. But wait. There's a flag. It's roughing the passer on McDonald, who's flagged for a blow to the head. Huh?! Replays show it's a horrible call. McDonald put his hands up and brought them down as he arrived, inadvertently tapping Warner on the helmet. That's a penalty? Horrible call, and the Arizona drive lives …

3:26: Given new life, the Cardinals punch it in, but not without a few delays. On third-and-4 from the San Francisco 5, Warner hits Breaston over the middle, but he's short of a first down. Arizona challenges the spot, but loses a timeout when the ball is re-spotted and the Cards still are short of the first. Now it's fourth down, and the Cardinals are going for it. Rookie Tim Hightower punches it in over the right side for a 1-yard plunge, and Arizona takes full advantage of Spikes' error to take a 10-point lead with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter …
Cardinals 20, 49ers 10

3:33: The 49ers' first offensive play of the second half comes with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter, and it's an O'Sullivan overthrow of Morgan on the left sideline. O'Sullivan is pressured heavily on second down and can't quite scramble away, getting dropped for a sack as he lunges for the line of scrimmage. But on third down, pressured heavily again, O'Sullivan gets off a nice throw and finds Arnaz Battle over the middle for a first down to keep the drive moving …

3:38: The third quarter ends with Gore busting up the middle down to the Arizona, where the 49ers will face third-and-inches to begin the final 15 minutes of play …

3:41: Foster gets the carry on third down and easily pushes the ball forward to keep the 49ers moving forward. On the next play, O'Sullivan is trapped in the pocket, but he somehow keeps the play alive and finds Gore open on the right sideline, and Gore turns it into a 14-yard gain that takes the ball inside the Arizona 20 …

3:46: The drive stalls as the 49ers send Foster up the middle on a delayed handoff on third-and-7. He's stopped well short, and San Francisco settles for a 30-yard field goal by Nedney that gets the Niners back within one score with 12 minutes remaining to play …
Cardinals 20, 49ers 13

3:57: The Cardinals get a few crucial third-down conversions to drive into San Francisco territory on their next possession, and now time is becoming a factor. On third-and-four from the 31, Warner hits Boldin for a three-yard gain, and now the Cards are going for it on fourth-and-short. But just the ball is snapped, the Arizona sideline calls timeout. There's 6:11 remaining in the game, and the Cards want to give this one some thought …

4:00: Here it is. The Cardinals only need a few inches to keep the drive moving. Of course, a stop by the Niners would be absolutely huge. Hightower takes the snap and plows into the middle, and he easily gets the necessary yard, plus another. It's a first down at the 25 now, and Arizona gets a whole new set of downs to burn the clock …

4:03: It's another third-down conversion for the Cardinals, and this one's a killer. It takes the ball inside the San Francisco 15, and now the 49ers have to start burning timeouts with 3:39 remaining. This is not looking good. The 49ers need something big to happen here, but Arizona is definitely calling the shots now …

4:06: Arizona has had the football for more than 20 minutes in the second half now, and the Cards are simply protecting the ball and running it into the middle to set up a field-goal attempt for Rackers. The two-minute warning will stop the ball for the 49ers as James runs the ball into the middle on third-and-10 to set up a 30-yard field goal attempt by Rackers that can just about seal the deal …

4:10: And Rackers drills it. That's a 10-point lead for the Cardinals, and that's about the nail in San Francisco's coffin. When the 49ers needed their defense to step up most, the Cardinals went down the field for a time-consuming, game-winning 62-yard drive that last 18 plays and took the life out of the Niners and the Candlestick crowd …
Cardinals 23, 49ers 13

4:14: And that about does it – right away. On San Francisco's first play after the ensuing kickoff, defensive end Travis LaBoy blows past right tackle Jonas Jennings and hog-ties O'Sullivan from behind – Jennings completely whiffed on the feeble blocking attempt – and then knocks the ball away from O'Sullivan as the players go to the ground. LaBoy pounces on the ball, and that's it. A fifth turnover for the 49ers, and lots of doom and gloom to go around for what looked like a promising opener …

4:18: The Cardinals actually turn the ball over on downs as Warner takes a knee on first down, second down, third down – and fourth down. With 16 seconds remaining, the San Francisco offense comes out for one final play. Gore takes a short pass from O'Sullivan and races up field for a nice gain that will pad San Francisco's final offensive stats a bit. But nothing can make this final result look good for the 49ers. To begin new season with a new quarterback and new offense, this opener is about as disappointing as they come.
Final score: Cardinals 23, 49ers 13



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