It was their best defensive showing of the season by far, but a last-second field goal by the Arizona Cardinals deprived the San Francisco 49ers of their second win of the season on Sunday.
The Niners defense limited an opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards for the first time since the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams and had its most takeaways of the year. But Cards kicker Chandler Catanzaro nailed a 34-yard field goal as the last seconds came off the clock to deliver a 23-20 victory for the home team.
“It hurts,” head coach Chip Kelly told reporters after the loss. “As tough as they just played, it’s tough to give them words to make them feel better.”
The defeat drops the 49ers to 1-8, losers of their last eight.
For the more optimistic among us, they can take solace in the ever improving play of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has now logged his best game of the season in each successive week.
He threw for 210 yards and ran for another 55 against Arizona, where he had his worst start of his career a year ago.
“There’s still room for us to grow,” Kaepernick said. “There’s still room for us to get better. There’s still room for us to capitalize the things we saw on the field today.”
Kaepernick scored on a 4-yard run to tie the game just inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. He celebrated by holding up his right fist.
“It was a great feeling to be back in the end zone,” Kaepernick said. “It was a great play by Gerald [Hodges] to get that pick and give us that opportunity. Offensively, to be able to go down and capitalize on that and tie the game up, that’s what we have to be able to do. But we also have to be able to take advantage of the opportunities we have earlier in the game and put more points on the board for our defense.”
The last-place 49ers defense held David Johnson — one of the league’s top-five leading rushers — to 55 yards on 19 carries, which represented an improvement relative to weeks past. But, Johnson did score twice, including on an 18-yard run.
Carlos Hyde’s return to the Niners backfield from injury was a disappointment. The third-year back rushed for just 14 yards on 13 carries.
The 49ers return to Santa Clara for a tough home match against the New England Patriots on Sunday.