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49ers’ 18-15 fourth-quarter collapse to Cardinals indicative of team’s 2018 problems

Oct 28, 2018 at 5:48 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers fell again in heartbreaking fashion, this time to the previously one-win Arizona Cardinals, who used another Niners fourth-quarter collapse to pull off the 18-15 win in Week 8. And it all leads to more problems and question marks for head coach Kyle Shanahan.

It's becoming nearly impossible to peg the San Francisco 49ers' 2018 woes on any single person, aspect or element. Before their 18-15 heartbreaking Week 8 loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals, the Niners could blame both injuries and a swath of turnovers for many of their previous defeats. After all, a minus-15 turnover differential entering the game (worst in the NFL) is about as bad as it gets.

But that wasn't the case on Sunday, as the 49ers managed two defensive takeaways of their own while not committing a turnover. And still the loss.

A loss that included another fourth-quarter meltdown, not unlike the one head coach Kyle Shanahan's squad endured back in Week 6 on Monday Night Football against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Yet Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen isn't Rodgers. And Arizona isn't Green Bay. Like San Francisco, the Cardinals are in the opening stages of a complete rebuild. After firing former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy after Week 7, one could argue they are in a bigger mess than Shanahan's group.

Or are they?

"We didn't score enough points," Shanahan told the press following the gut-wrenching loss. "Our defense gave us a great chance to win, getting us those three turnovers [including one safety] and giving us a 12-point lead. We didn't capitalize on them enough with touchdowns, and we didn't make the plays at the end when we needed to."

Therein lies the problem. When San Francisco seemingly solves one glaring issue, others pop up. In this case, the defense's inability to generate turnovers in previous games wasn't apparent in Week 8. Safety Jaquiski Tartt recorded an interception in the game, and linebacker Fred Warner recovered what appeared to be a game-securing fumble by Arizona in the fourth quarter. And there was the first-quarter safety too, which put the Niners up 2-0.

Meanwhile, quarterback C.J. Beathard and the offense didn't turn the ball over either.

Yet that opened up more issues for Shanahan and Co. Through most of the game, Beathard looked as if he was trying to avoid mistakes rather than make plays. He was consistently late with his passes, holding onto the ball for too long and taking four sacks in the process. He finished 14-of-27 for 190 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 87.0.

"He did a good job not turning the ball over," Shanahan said of Beathard. "But no one else on offense had a good day."

Overall, San Francisco mustered just 267 all-purpose yards. Arizona, which entered the game with the league's fewest offensive yards, outgained the Niners with 321. And the Cardinals defense, which had allowed more rush yards than any other team in the NFL through seven weeks, held No. 1 running back Matt Breida to just 42 yards and an average of 2.6 yards per rush.

"What we were doing wasn't quite working," Beathard admitted after the game.

In spite of all the offensive woes, the 49ers still held a 15-3 lead entering the fourth quarter and were going up against the league's 31st scoring offense with a rookie signal-caller under center. And over three-plus quarters, the Niners defense played well enough to win. But when it mattered most, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's unit couldn't hold the line.

Two touchdowns on three Cardinals possessions in the fourth quarter -- one by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the go-ahead score by rookie wideout Christian Kirk (his two touchdowns this season have both come against San Francisco) -- were the major difference makers.

The Niners had zero pass rush on either drive, and fill-in defensive back Tyvis Powell gave up both. He was in because of an injury to Tartt. While injuries have hurt the 49ers in a major way this season, the lack of depth is yet another major issue.

In addition to Tartt, the 49ers also lost linebacker Reuben Foster to a hamstring injury and were without center Weston Richburg (knee). Richburg's absence forced backup lineman Erik Magnuson into a starting role, and his snap on the final play of the game sailed well over Beathard's head, ensuring Arizona's victory.

"We just didn't make enough plays," cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters. "We got them on third down a few times on defense, and they just made more plays than us down the stretch."

Again, another issue.

The 2018 49ers are a lot like that classic game of whack-a-mole -- when one problem is apparently solved, another pops up. But when that one is addressed, others arise. In a way, the team is being forced to chase itself in any number of different directions.

And a 1-7 record is the result.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.

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