SANTA CLARA – The 49ers offered a lot more resistance against the NFC West leaders than the last time the teams met.
The 49ers took the Arizona Cardinals down to the wire, but fell short with a 19-13 loss at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers (3-8) came up short when Blaine Gabbert’s fourth-and-20 pass to Anquan Boldin gained just 18 yards to the Arizona 22-yard line with 1:12 remaining. The Cardinals improved to 9-2 on the season.
The 49ers were called for 13 penalties, and none were more damaging than two that occurred on the Cardinals’ final drive.
Arizona was awarded a first down on a third-and-19 situation due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the 49ers’ sideline for getting in the way of an official. On the same play, Jimmie Ward was flagged for illegal contact away from the play.
Two plays later, Quinton Dial appeared to have an eight-yard sack of Carson Palmer, but referee Pete Morelli ruled that Dial made helmet-to-helmet contact with Palmer to nullify the play and give the Cardinals 15 yards.
Eight plays later, Palmer scrambled seven yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:28 remaining. Chandler Catanzaro missed the extra point to open the door for the 49ers to win the game with a touchdown and PAT.
Gabbert, making his third start with the 49ers, had another solid day against a defense that came into the day ranked third in the league.
Gabbert completed 25 of 36 passes for a career-high 318 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Meanwhile, the 49ers’ defense came up with a strong day against the league’s top-ranked offense. Palmer, an MVP candidate, completed 24 of 40 passes for 271 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Oddly enough, the 49ers seemed to gain strength from a unique sequence in the third quarter in which they ended up surrendering a touchdown. But the fact that it took the Cardinals nine snaps from inside the 49ers’ 5-yard line demonstrated that they would not be easy pushovers as they were when the teams first met on Sept 27. The Cardinals rolled to a 47-7 victory in Week 3.
The 49ers’ goal-line defense was put to the test, as they kept the Cardinals out of the end zone on eight consecutive plays. However, the 49ers were also called for four penalties in the end zone in the process.
Jimmie Ward was called for pass interference; Tramaine Brock was flagged for illegal use of hands; Eric Reid was penalized for pass interference; and Michael Wilhoite was also ruled guilty of pass interference. Each of those infractions gave the Cardinals a new set of downs.
Finally, David Johnson accounted for the first touchdown of the game on a one-yard scoring run to supply the Cardinals with a 13-3 lead.
But the 49ers rebounded quickly to get back in the game.
Gabbert hit rookie tight end Blake Bell with a 48-yard catch-and-run to get deep into Cardinals territory. The 49ers got into the end zone on Gabbert’s four-yard scoring pass to Vance McDonald.
It was McDonald’s second scoring catch in two weeks after being held out of the end zone for the first 31 games of his career. McDonald caught six passes for 71 yards to record career-highs for the second consecutive week.
The Cardinals had not beaten the 49ers since a 23-13 victory at Candlestick Park. The 49ers’ six consecutive home victories over Arizona included a 38-7 win in the season final of 2010 in which Jim Tomsula acted as the interim coach in place of Mike Singletary, who was fired a week earlier.
The 49ers’ defense, which was steamrolled a week earlier in a 29-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, played well in the first half. The Cardinals managed just 128 yards of offense and two field goals.
The 49ers pulled to within 6-3 on the final play of the half when Phil Dawson made a 53-yard field goal. The 49ers drove 45 yards in 12 plays, including a fourth-down conversion when Gabbert found running back Shaun Draughn on a three-yard pass on a fourth-and-2 situation.
Ellington’s muff: Return man Bruce Ellington provided the Cardinals with their opportunity for the first points of the game when he muffed Drew Butler’s punt at the 49ers’ 39-yard line in the first quarter.
The Cardinals drove to the 8-yard line and settled for Chandler Catanzaro’s 26-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
It was Ellington’s second mishandling of a punt in two games. He fumbled a punt return last week against the Seattle Seahawks but the 49ers recovered. Jarryd Hayne, who remains on the 49ers’ practice squad, was charged with three fumbles before he was demoted after appearing in six games.
Injury report: Tight end Garrett Celek was carted off the field in the first quarter after sustaining a left ankle injury. He did not return. Celek was injured as he was blocking near the sideline and Draughn was tackled into him. Celek leads the 49ers with three touchdown catches. He has 19 receptions for 186 yards.
This ‘n’ that: Cornerback Tramaine Brock dropped an easy interception in the end zone early in the second quarter on a third-down play. The play would have prevented the Cardinals from a 41-yard field goal on the next play that gave Arizona a 6-0 lead. . . That play happened directly after receiver John Brown caught a pass from Palmer in the end zone. However, Brown went out of bounds before making the catch. The touchdown was nullified as Brown was called for illegal touching on the pass. But Fox officiating analyst Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former supervisor of officials, said it should not have been a penalty. It should have been ruled as just an incomplete pass because Brown did not re-establish both feet inbounds before touching the ball. . . Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks did not suit up for the game due to a concussion. The 49ers started rookie Eli Harold in his place. The 49ers also opted to start Mike Purcell at right defensive end over Arik Armstead with Glenn Dorsey out for the season with a torn ACL. . . . Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who underwent left shoulder surgery on Tuesday, wanted to attend the game, a source said. However, doctors advised him to avoid walking and being on his feet as he rests and recovers from the surgery. . .