GLENDALE, Ariz. – At least for one day, the 49ers solved their most obvious weakness of the season.
The 49ers’ last-ranked run defense, which entered the game surrendering 193.0 yards per game, shut down the running lanes on one of the NFL’s top runners.
While the 49ers’ defense mostly held up its end of the bargain, they couldn't come up with one final stop when they needed it on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in a 23-20 loss. The 49ers (1-8) lost for the eighth consecutive time, moving within one defeat of tying the franchise’s worst losing streak.
Trailing 20-13 late in the game, 49ers linebacker Gerald Hodges intercepted Carson Palmer. That set up Colin Kaepernick's 4-yard touchdown run to tie the game with under two minutes to go. But the Cardinals drove 69 yards on 11 plays to win the game as time expired on Chandler Catanzaro's 34-yard field goal. The Cardinals picked up a key first down on a 12-yard pass from Palmer to running back David Johnson on a third-and-8 play from the 49ers' 35-yard line against the coverage of linebacker Nick Bellore with a minute remaining.
In 1978, the 49ers lost nine consecutive games under Pete McCulley and his replacement, Fred O’Connor. The 49ers will look to avoid matching the futility of the 1978 team next Sunday against the New England Patriots on a day in which Hall of Fame owner Eddie DeBartolo will be honored at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers’ run defense entered the game allowing an NFL-record seven consecutive 100-yard rushers. After holding the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley to 47 yards in the opener, Fozzy Whittaker, Christine Michael, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, LeSesan McCoy, Jacquizz Rodgers and Mark Ingram each rushed for triple digits against the 49ers.
Johnson, who gained 157 yards against the 49ers on Oct. 6 at Levi’s Stadium, did not have as much success in the return engagement.
Johnson entered as the No. 4 rusher in the league with 705 yards. The 49ers held him to 55 yards on 19 carries. The 49ers even stopped him for no gain on a third-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter to force a punt. The Cardinals gained just 80 yards rushing against the 49ers on 23 rushing attempts.
The 49ers had their own problems with the run game. Running back Carlos Hyde, who returned after missing two games with a shoulder injury, gained just 14 yards on 13 carries.
Kaepernick had a solid game – just one season after his worst career showing against the same team. Kaepernick completed 17 of 30 passes for 210 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He ran the ball 10 times for 55 yards and the game-tying touchdown with 1:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
A year ago, Kaepernick passed for just 67 yards with four interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns, in the 49ers' blowout loss at Arizona.
The Cardinals’ stadium in Glendale has been open for 11 seasons, but Chip Kelly became the fifth different 49ers’ coach to absorb a loss. Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tomsula also lost games at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was Kelly’s third loss at the stadium with three different teams. Kelly’s Oregon Ducks lost the BCS national championship game to Cam Newton and Auburn in January 2011. The Philadelphia Eagles, under Kelly, lost at the Cardinals in 2012.
Diving platform: The Cardinals took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on an 11-play, 91-yard drive that included three diving catches from their wide receivers.
After Michael Floyd made a sprawling catch for a 35-yard gain against the coverage 49ers safety Eric Reid, Larry Fitzgerald followed that up with two diving catches -- an 18-yarder and an 8-yarder on a third-and-3 play.
The Cardinals eventually scored on Palmer’s 3-yard pass to Johnson against the coverage of Bellore for a 7-0 lead.
The 49ers made mistakes that led directly to the Cardinals’ second touchdown. Kerley fumbled a punt return at the Arizona 44. On the next play, 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward was flagged for a 38-yard pass interference penalty.
On the next play, Johnson scored on an 18-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead.
Kerley strikes back
After his fumble set up the Cardinals’ second touchdown of the game, Kerley avenged that play with a 17-yard touchdown reception from Kaepernick in the second quarter to cut Arizona’s lead in half.
The 49ers had three consecutive three-and-outs to open the game. Kaepernick gained 10 yards on a designed quarterback run on a second-and-5 play. He hit tight end Vance McDonald for a 32-yard pass and wide receiver Rod Streater for 11 yards on back-to-back plays to set up the 17-yard pass to Kerley.
This ‘n’ that
-- Down by seven points late in the third quarter, Jaquiski Tartt had coverage on a Carson Palmer pass for J.J. Nelson that was tipped. Eric Reid made the interception and returned it 13 yards to the Arizona 40. It was Reid’s first interception since the 2014 season.
The 49ers picked up a first down at the Arizona 28, but consecutive holding penalties on tight end Garrett Celek and center Daniel Kilgore pushed the 49ers out of field-goal range.
--Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (ankle) and cornerback Rashard Robinson (knee) were ruled out of Sunday’s game due to injuries. Eli Harold made his sixth start of the season in place of Lynch, who served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy of substances of abuse to open the season.
--Harold collected his first career sack when he dropped Palmer in the third quarter and stripped him of the ball in the process. DeForest Buckner, who earlier recorded a sack, recovered the fumble. On the next play, Kaepernick hit Quinton Patton on a deep pass. The play set up Dawson’s 53-yard field goal.
--The 49ers’ offense has achieved just 11 plays this season of 30 or more yards. McDonald and Quinton Patton have caught three such passes. McDonald had a 32-yarder in the second quarter to set up the 49ers’ first touchdown. Patton caught a 45-yard pass in the third quarter.
--Second-year running back Mike Davis, who started the first game that Hyde missed, was inactive for the first time this season.
--Linebacker Shayne Skov saw limited action on defense in the second half and recorded an assisted tackle. It was the first time this season Skov has seen action on defense. Nick Bellore and Gerald Hodges started at inside linebacker and played most of the game.
--The 49ers were called for nine penalties totaling 100 yards. The 49ers were the league’s least-penalized team entering last week’s game, when they were flagged nine times for 78 yards against the New Orleans Saints.