GLENDALE, AZ -– Tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald were not available for Sunday’s game due to an ankle injury.
Rather than just plug in another piece or two, the 49ers changed their entire offensive philosophy.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman eschewed the power-running game for a more new-age look. The 49ers implemented a hurry-up offense in the beginning that caught the Arizona Cardinals off-balance. Then, they settled into a spread attack that featured three, four and, yes, five wide receivers.
The approach was not successful enough to drop the Arizona Cardinals from the ranks of the unbeaten on Sunday. The Cardinals rallied in the second half for a 23-14 victory to improve to 3-0 atop the NFC West standings.
The 49ers saw an early lead slip away for the second consecutive week and were victimized by another penalty-infested performance in falling to 1-2 as they return home for games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs in back-to-back weeks.
The 49ers’ reaped immediate rewards on their first two possessions with 80-yard touchdown drives to take a 14-6 lead into the second half.
Colin Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree on a 2-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Then, rookie running back Carlos Hyde scored on a 6-yard run.
Kaepernick rebounded strong from a four-turnover game a week earlier that gave the Chicago Bears a helping hand in coming back from a 17-point deficit for a 28-20 victory that spoiled the 49ers’ opener at Levi’s Stadium.
Kaepernick completed his first nine pass attempts. Also, Roman did not appear to concerned with Kaepernick’s back, which landed him on the 49ers’ injury report last week. He took part in full practices leading up to the game.
Kaepernick rushed for 54 yards on 13 attempts, many of them designed quarterback runs.
Kaepernick seemed comfortable as the 49ers used a variety of multi-receiver formations from the opening of the game. Kaepernick completed 29 of 37 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown.
SECOND-HALF BLUES: The 49ers have outscored the opposition 59-16 in the first halves of their first three games. But over the first two games, the 49ers scored just three points while surrendering 35. Those second-half woes continued when John Brown took advantage of a blow caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Drew Stanton to pull the Cardinals to within 14-13 early in the third quarter.
Brown got behind the 49ers’ secondary a few minutes later for a 21-yard touchdown reception that gave the Cardinals a 20-14 lead. Brown was matched in the slot against Jimmie Ward. He ran past Ward and Stanton delivered a strike before Antoine Bethea could rotate over for help.
TOO ROUGH: The Cardinals’ go-ahead drive in the third quarter was aided greatly by back-to-back 49ers penalties that totaled 30 yards.
Outside linebacker Dan Skuta drilled Stanton as he was sliding at the end of a 7-yard gain. Skuta was called for unnecessary roughness.
On the next play, blitzing 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis delivered a big hit to Stanton as he was throwing. Referee Gene Steratore called Willis for a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty. Three plays later, Stanton hit from for a 21-yard touchdown pass.
CARRIER GETS START: With Davis and McDonald out of action, Carrier was elevated to the starting lineup. He made his first NFL start, and he did not wait long to get into the action. Carrier caught a 23-yard pass on a third-and-1 situation to lead to the 49ers’ first touchdown of the game.
REID GETS FLAGGED: Free safety Eric Reid made it through his entire rookie season without getting called for any penalties. That streak came to an end late in the first quarter when his illegal contact penalty on a third-and-10 wiped out Justin Smith’s sack and provided the Cardinals with a first down.
Just three plays later, Reid was called for the second penalty of his NFL career when he was guilty of a facemask penalty at the end of John Brown’s 5-yard reception from Drew Stanton. The 49ers’ defense held after the first and goal from the 10, and Chandler Catanzaro kicked his second short field goal of the game for Arizona.
THIS ‘N’ THAT
--In addition to Davis and McDonald, the 49ers’ other inactive players were cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe), tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring), center Marcus Martin (knee), and receiver Quinton Patton and defensive lineman Tank Carradine.
--The 49ers came into the game as the only team in the NFL to convert better than 50 percent of their third-down opportunities in the first two games. The 49ers continued that hot streak by going 5-for-7 in the first half.
--Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was guilty of committing a momentum-squashing unnecessary roughness penalty when he head-butted a Cardinals defensive player. Instead of a first-and-goal from the 6, the 49ers were backed up for a first and 10 at the 21-yard line.
--After right tackle Jonathan Martin was called for clipping on a third-down play, the 49ers were backed up and had to settle for a field-goal attempt. But the 49ers did not get any points as Phil Dawson’s 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Justin Bethel.
--The 49ers remained in the game with 6:54 remaining in the fourth quarter when Michael Wilhoite and Antoine Bethea combined for a legal tackle of Larry Fitzgerald, who fumbled. Perrish Cox recovered at the 49ers’ 5-yard line.