Turnovers, penalties plague Niners in loss to Cardinals

The 49ers flexed their muscles Thursday night. Well, running back Carlos Hyde did, and it cost him 15 yards for taunting. Which is sort of the way things went for the Niners at a Levi’s Stadium that was — what? — half-full against an opponent, who despite being forced to use a backup quarterback, all there.

In this battle between 1-3 teams who at the start seemed destined to set an NFL record for punts — the first combined nine offensive series ended in that manner — the Arizona Cardinals beat the Niners, 33-21.

Niners quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw two interceptions, leading to the question whether San Francisco should go to its backup, who of course, used to be the starter, Colin Kaepernick.

First-year year coach Chip Kelly hinted at the possibility, in the usual oblique way, saying the team had the weekend off and no decision would made until practice is held next week.

“We’re not going to meet as a staff,” said Kelly. “When we do we’ll evaluate the offense as a whole.”

The way it looked Thursday, the offensive line had a hole.

Gabbert was sacked seven times, which could be as much the fault of the offensive line as the quarterback. A year ago it was Kaepernick who kept getting buried. Gabbert replaced him for the ninth game, in early November. Now, perhaps, it’s Kap taking over for Gabbert.

Drew Stanton took over for Carson Palmer for the Cardinals, when two days ago it was announced Palmer was still under concussion protocol, and somehow, Stanton, who rarely plays, was 11 for 28 for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

What beat the Niners was that scourge of all football teams, turnovers, specifically the two picks and a lost fumble. Arizona, last-season’s NFC West Champion, has been a disappointment, but then along came the Niners.

Yes, they were without NaVorro Bowman, the linebacker superior, and will be until the year is over, after his Achilles injury. But the defense held up well until the third quarter. It was when the Niners had the ball that they were in trouble.

At times the game was so dreary, you wondered if the fans who were in the stadium thought about driving the 7.6 miles to SAP Center and catching the Warriors preseason game. An exhibition, certainly, but a very interesting one.

The 49ers were attired in their awful all-black uniforms with the red numbers, which are perfect for not being identified. Hey, maybe that was really Kaepernick on the field instead of Gabbert. Verification is being requested from the NFL. Or the CIA.

Kelly pointed out correctly the Niners were called for penalties at critical times, which is what happens to bad, er, less than wonderful, football teams. San Francisco was called for running into the kicker when Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro kicked a field goal early in the third quarter. The Cardinals then got the ball first and goal on the SF four and in one play got a TD.

“It’s when the penalties occur,” said Kelly. “You hold them, and they get the ball back and score.”

Kelly’s specialty is high-speed, high-power offense, but in losing of their five games in Kelly’s inaugural season, there hasn’t been much speed or much power — or many points.

Kaepernick and his legion did what they’ve done during the national anthem, which was played with a giant club on the field from end zone to end zone, raised firsts, whatever. The public is pretty much immune to however the players show their disenchantment about political and social situations.

What people would like to see is whether Kaepernick can play quarterback better than Gabbert. Maybe, after Kelly and his minions gather and make a decision, we’ll find out.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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