GLENDALE, Ariz. – It was not a masterpiece, but the 49ers’ offense was also going up against the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
The 49ers drove 57 yards for the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But Colin Kaepernick’s 4-yard scoring run left the Arizona Cardinals with enough time to drive into position for the winning field goal and a 23-20 victory on Sunday.
It was a game of missed opportunities for the 49ers, whose defense generated four turnovers. The 49ers committed just one giveaway, and Arizona scored a touchdown. The 49ers managed just 10 points off their four takeaways.
The 49ers put themselves into position to score the upset victory. Instead, they left Arizona with their only true gut-wrenching loss of the season. The 49ers (1-8) had rarely been in spot to win a game in the fourth quarter of their other seven losses during their current skid.
“It’s tough to pinpoint one thing,” Kaepernick said. “The one drive that I look to is the drive that we had a couple of penalties when we were in the red zone. We would have had an opportunity to at least kick a field goal on that drive. Hindsight being 20-20, it makes it 23-23, worst-case scenario.
“There are plays like that, drive like that, where we have to not shoot ourselves in the foot and be able to capitalize on those and put points on the board.”
Late in the third quarter, 49ers safety Eric Reid intercepted a pass that was deflected by teammate Jaquiski Tartt. The 49ers picked up a first down to move to the Cardinals’ 28-yard line.
But consecutive holding penalties against tight end Garrett Celek and center Daniel Kilgore moved the 49ers out of field-goal range – even for Phil Dawson, who had earlier made kicks of 49 and 53 yards.
“You come away with three (points) there, and it’s a totally different ballgame,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said.
“I thought our defense did a really good job, now the emphasis has to be on the offense having to capitalize when the defense creates that many turnovers for you.”
Kaepernick might have had his best all-around showing in the four games since replacing Blaine Gabbert as the starter. Kaepernick completed 17 of 30 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. He also had 55 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushing attempts.
“I think every week that I get reps, every day I get more reps, it gets more and more comfortable,” Kaepernick said. “At this point, when Chip is calling a play or when (offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins) is calling a play, I know what they’re thinking. I know what they want to get done with that play. That makes me feel more comfortable and our offense is doing a great job of executing the plays that are being called.”