How Did Cardinals Lose to 49ers? Let's Count the Ways

The Arizona Cardinals don't control their playoff destiny anymore after a brutal loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — 'Twas the day after Christmas and the Arizona Cardinals had an opportunity to prove their playoff worth.

Instead, they showed they clearly are not, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 20-12 on an afternoon where ...

  • The defense made running back Jeffery Wilson Jr. look like an All-Pro and quarterback C.J. Beathard appear to be more than a third-stringer.

Wilson totaled 204 yards from scrimmage with 183 yards rushing on 22 carries and another 21 on one reception that went for a touchdown. On too many occasions, he simply had open spaces to run.

Beathard completed 13 of 22 passes for 187 yards (14.0 per completion) and had a passer rating of 125.4.

Overall, the 49ers had seven plays of 21 yards or more and another 10 of 10-plus. They gained 398 yards on only 55 plays, an average of 7.2.

  • The offense was virtually a no-show. The Cardinals were brutal on first-down plays, running 30 for a total of 67 yards. That included a remarkable 16 where they had zero or minus yardage.

That led to numerous second- or third-and-long situations and a conversion rate of 4-for-16 on third down. On second down, there were 13 instances of at least 10 yards to go. Four false starts, two by center Mason Cole, also contributed to the number of negative plays.

Conversely, 30 of San Francisco’s 55 plays were on first down and they totaled 291 yards, which was 73.1 percent of their total yards in the game.

Big plays were few and far between. Compared to San Francisco’s 17, the Cardinals had seven. In a losing effort, they had 80 plays, but for an average of only 4.4 yards.

“Definitely disappointing ... definitely frustrating,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said.

Echoed outside linebacker Haason Reddick, who had 1.5 sacks in the losing effort: “I did not see this coming.”

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury credited San Francisco’s defense and added of his own team’s production (or lack thereof): “It was a group effort. We have to be a lot better.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Quarterback Kyler Murray managed to rush for a team-high 75 yards on eight carries, but had another bad red-zone interception in the end zone and passed for only 247 yards on 31 completions. He averaged 8.0 yards-per-completion and a miserable 4.94 per attempt, of which he had 50.

Despite all the negatives, it was still a close game in the fourth quarter after a Kenyan Drake score on his third try from the 1-yard line when the veteran running back leaped and reached the ball over the plane. A two-point try failed, but it was still a 14-12 game with 12:08 to play.

The defense got a stop when a pass to running back Jerick McKinnon was inches short and the 49ers punted.

A false start on third-and-5 by Humphries was followed by a completion to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins that was two yards short of a first down. Still, Hopkins eclipsed a franchise milestone, reaching 111 catches on the season, which is the most in team history with one game still remaining.

To that point, the Cardinals were 3-for-3 on fourth down and Kingsbury rolled the dice again, this time from his own 35-yard line and 9:04 left in the game.

Then, Murray’s pass to Hopkins fell incomplete via a tipped pass by linebacker Fred Warner. On the next play, Wilson rumbled 34 yards leading to the second receiving touchdown catch of the game by fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

There was still hope when kicker Robbie Gould, who had already missed a 41-yard field goal, pushed the extra-point attempt following the score to the right, keeping it a one-score game.

The Cardinals then drove from their own 25 to the 13 after Murray ran 30 yards on fourth-and-1. Drake lost one yard on first down — surprise, surprise — and then Murray lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone where 6-foot-2 cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted a pass intended for 5-foot-11 wide receiver Christian Kirk.

That’s a pass that should only be thrown to a spot where it can be caught or is incomplete, but Kirk had no chance to prevent the turnover.

The 49ers moved from their own 20 to the Arizona 18, helped by a Wilson 25-yard run on first down and a 23-yard pass to tight end George Kittle, who returned from reserve/injured for the game and caught a team-high four passes for 92 yards.

The 49ers milked the clock, but Gould inexplicably missed a 37-yard field goal — perhaps trying to help the Cardinals win so his former Chicago Bears team won’t make the post-season. Entering the game, Gould was 19-for-21 on field-goal attempts and had missed one extra point in 35 tries.

Still, with only 1:05 remaining, for some reason there were another three short passes, a deep incompletion intended for Kirk, and a failed fourth-and-6 short pass to Hopkins on a play that started with 20 seconds left at their own 44-yard line.

The fitting end came with Murray on his back with a leg injury after being hit, making him unavailable to talk following the game.

In all likelihood, he wouldn’t have added very much to what had already been said.

The Cardinals’ performance surely spoke volumes and provided little answers.