Instant Replay: Fitz, Cardinals finish 49ers; skid hits four

Instant Replay: Fitz, Cardinals finish 49ers; skid hits four


SANTA CLARA – Blaine Gabbert did nothing Thursday night to reassure the 49ers’ fan base that coach Chip Kelly has the right guy at quarterback.

The chants of “We want Kap!” grew louder as the evening progressed and the crowd thinned at Levi’s Stadium. But despite the wishes of some of the fans in attendance, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not get off the sideline for a fourth consecutive game.

The 49ers were absolutely abysmal in losing their fourth consecutive game, falling 33-21 to the Arizona Cardinals, a team playing without starting quarterback Carson Palmer. The 49ers are in last place all alone in the NFC West with a 1-4 record.

The 49ers, a team with no margin for error, committed error after error after error in gifting the Cardinals everything they would need in what they considered a must-win early season game.

Gabbert completed 18 of 31 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, which Arizona turned into 10 points. Gabbert, who was sacked just three times in the first four games, was sacked seven times for minus-27 yards, including a safety on a Calais Campbell sack in the closing minutes.

The 49ers also committed a fumble that set up a Cardinals touchdown but only after also committing a penalty on a field-goal attempt gave then a fresh set of downs.

The 49ers let the Cardinals pull even late in the first half when Gabbert’s pass attempt on a third-and-10 play from the 49ers’ 24 was tipped by Chandler Jones at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Campbell.

One play later, Arizona quarterback Drew Stanton hit a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard touchdown. Fitzgerald later added another touchdown. Both were against 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock. Fitzgerald has 16 career touchdowns against the 49ers in his 13th NFL seasons.

Stanton started his first game since 2014, and it showed. He moved into the starting lineup after Palmer was not cleared after sustaining a concussion on Sunday. Stanton completed just 11 of 28 attempts for 124 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Fitzgerald caught six passes 81 yards.

The 49ers practically handed the Cardinals their second touchdown of the game, too.

Return man Chris Davis coughed up the ball on the opening kickoff of the second half. The 49ers’ defense held the Cardinals to an apparent 26-yard field goal. However, Arizona coach Bruce Arians took the points off the board after Rashard Robinson was penalized for running into the kicker.

On the next play, running back David Johnson took it into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Johnson became the fourth consecutive opponent to rush for more than 100 yards against the 49ers. He gained 157 yards and two touchdowns on 27 rushes.

Gabbert’s second interception early in the fourth quarter led to a field goal that provided the Cardinals with a 10-point lead.

The chants of “We want Kap!” picked up a few decibel levels in the third quarter as the Cardinals took a two-touchdown lead.

But Gabbert briefly quieted the restless fans when he helped pull the 49ers to within seven points with an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive. Gabbert scrambled for gains of 11 and 24 yards on the drive, which was capped with Carlos Hyde’s 1-yard touchdown run. Hyde gained 78 yards on 22 rushing attempts.

But after the defense forced a three-and out, former 49ers cornerback Marcus Cooper stepped in front of Jeremy Kerley to intercept Gabbert’s pass near the left sideline.

Most of Gabbert’s damage came on the ground, as he rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushing attempts.

Bellore for Bowman
The 49ers placed NaVorro Bowman on injured reserve before Thursday’s game and activated outside linebacker Aaron Lynch after he served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse. Lynch started at outside linebacker, reclaiming his former starting job from Eli Harold.

Nick Bellore, one of the 49ers’ top special-teams players, made the first start of his six-year NFL career in Bowman’s place. Bellore and Michael Wilhoite started at inside linebacker. Wilhoite replaced Gerald Hodges in the starting lineup for the first time Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

Bellore had an up-and-down game with some missed tackles. He was credited with a team-high nine tackles on defense. Bellore added two tackles on special teams and a forced fumble.

This ‘n’ that
The 49ers’ last-ranked passing game had one brief sequence of success in the second quarter. Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, who has proved to be the 49ers’ only reliable receiving target, had four receptions for 63 yards on one drive. He and Gabbert hooked up on a 9-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead.

--Hyde was penalized late in the first half for taunting. After catching a 7-yard pass from Gabbert, he got into a jawing matchup with some Cardinals defenders. Hyde flexed his biceps and tossed the ball into the air. Under new NFL rules, one more penalty such as that in Thursday’s game would have led to an automatic ejection.

--Defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey joined rookie DeForest Buckner on the inactive list. Dorsey’s knee did not feel right after the 49ers’ practice on Wednesday, so the team held him out of action. Dorsey is returning from a torn ACL he sustained in November.

--Defensive lineman Taylor Hart, who the 49ers claimed off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles after the initial cut to 53 players, saw his first action. He was inactive for the 49ers’ first four games.

--Outside linebacker Tank Carradine sustained a toe injury in the third quarter. Chris Davis left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future


49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

The first wave of free agency is over, and the 49ers struck quickly.

The club identified two players coach Kyle Shanahan tabbed as fits for his offense and they paid the money it took to get them.

General manager John Lynch said there were five teams seriously interested in free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. Even more teams were going after center Weston Richburg, he said.

That drove up the prices on McKinnon and Richburg to the point that they rank behind only quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($37 million) as taking up the most cap space among the 72 players currently under contract to the 49ers.

McKinnon and Richburg account for $10.5 million and $9.26 million, respectively, on the 49ers' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's deal takes up $6.175 million on the 49ers' cap this season.

The big spending to attract free agents to the team is likely over. The 49ers have $45.1 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That figure does not include a projected $8.3 million to sign their 2018 rookie class, according to overthecap.com.

The major spending for this offseason is over because the 49ers have apparently looked to the future and set aside cap space with the idea of retaining some of their own players whose contracts are winding down.

The first decisions for the future must occur by May 3, the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2015 draft. The 49ers have decisions to make on defensive lineman Arik Armstread and left guard Laken Tomlinson, who was acquired from Detroit in a trade just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.

It is still unclear how or if Armstead’s skills fit into the 49ers’ defense. He opened last season at the team's pass-rush end before moving to the "big end," which also appears to be first-round pick Solomon Thomas' best position.

Tomlinson showed reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about his future as his play got better as he acclimated to the offense. Among the guards already on the 49ers’ roster, Tomlinson appears to be the most likely to be a starter in 2018.

Presumptive starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Ward’s fifth-year option deal of one-year, $8.526 million became fully guaranteed last Wednesday. But in order for the 49ers to make a multi-year commitment, Ward would likely have to prove he can remain healthy and available for a full season.

DeForest Buckner is likely the target for the next blockbuster contract extension. Buckner has emerged as one of the top young defensive linemen in the league. Next offseason will be the first time the 49ers are permitted to negotiate a multi-year extension with him.

With a scarcity of offensive linemen available in the draft and free agency, right tackle Trent Brown could be set to cash in with an enormous deal next offseason – either with the 49ers or some other team.

DL Arik Armstead
FS Jimmie Ward
SS Jaquiski Tartt
RT Trent Brown
LB Eli Harold
LG Laken Tomlinson
K Robbie Gould
P Bradley Pinion

DL DeForest Buckner
LT Joe Staley
OG Joshua Garnett
DL Ronald Blair
TE Garrett Celek
RB Matt Breida (RFA)
WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA)

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”