SANTA CLARA (AP) — Allowing a rookie quarterback to lead two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and then botching a snap to cost a team a chance to get into range for a game-tying field goal might seem a bit improbable.
For the San Francisco 49ers, games like that have become far too typical in two years under coach Kyle Shanahan.
San Francisco’s 18-15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday was the team’s league-worst eighth in the past two years in games decided by three or fewer points as the 49ers (1-7) have too often been close but not quite good enough.
“It’s something we’ve got to do to get better and get over that hump,” Shanahan said. “It comes down to, you can do a lot of things throughout a game, but when it comes down to the end when we need to close people out and we need some closers to do that. We’ve had some opportunities to do it.”
They had plenty of chances against the Cardinals on Sunday, starting when they had the ball on first-and-goal at the Cardinals 4 trying to add to a nine-point lead.
A botched zone read led to no gain on first down on the last play of the third quarter, before Matt Breida was hit for a loss on second down and C.J. Beathard was forced to scramble for just 2 yards on third down. San Francisco settled for a field goal and a 15-3 lead.
That figured to be safe against the league’s lowest-scoring offense led by rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. But the Cardinals drove 75 yards and scored on a 13-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald to cut the deficit to five.
The 49ers gained two first downs on the next drive before punting but seemed to be in good shape when they recovered a fumble with 4:44 to play. They got one first down on a penalty before Beathard was sacked on third down, leading to another punt and setting the stage for Rosen’s comeback in the final 2:16.
Rosen led the Cardinals on a 73-yard drive for the go-ahead score on a pass to Christian Kirk with 34 seconds left. The 2-point conversion made it 18-15 but the Niners managed to get the ball to the Arizona 45 before Erik Magnuson’s snap went over Beathard’s head to end the game.
“In order to win an ugly game in the NFL, you’ve got to be good on four-minute offense and four-minute defense, and we weren’t there at the end, Shanahan said. “We went into that game knowing that we had to protect the ball and not turn it over and hoping to get turnovers. We accomplished that goal. That’s why I think we had a very good chance to win at the end of the game.”
The Niners have three close losses this year, all after Beathard took over as starting quarterback in Week 4 following a season-ending knee injury to Jimmy Garoppolo.
They blew chances on both sides of the ball in all three of those losses, leaving plenty of blame to hand around.
After giving up the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter of a 29-27 loss at the Chargers on Sept. 30, the offense went three-and-out on the next drive before Beathard threw an interception. The defense was unable to force a kick on the final drive and the Chargers ran out the clock.
The situation was even worse at Green Bay on Oct. 15 when the 49ers were unable to hold on to a 30-23 fourth-quarter lead against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. San Francisco had two three-and-outs with a chance to either run down the clock or add to the lead and allowed the Packers to drive 58 yards to the game-tying score.
Beathard then threw an interception with the 49ers driving for a go-ahead field goal and Rodgers drove the Packers from their own 10 into range for Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal in the final 1:07.
San Francisco almost blew another close game with Garoppolo at quarterback only to have a potential interception overturned by a defensive holding call on Detroit, allowing the 49ers to hold on for a 30-27 victory.
NOTES: Shanahan said there has been no movement on potential trades before Tuesday’s deadline, with receiver Pierre Garcon one of the players who has been discussed as a possible target for other teams. “I know those guys are talking nonstop right now and they’ll probably do it all the way up to the deadline tomorrow,” Shanahan said. ... The 49ers had several players nursing injuries who would have missed practice if they had one: Beathard (right wrist), S Antone Exum (concussion), LB Reuben Foster (hamstring), RB Raheem Mostert (ankle), G Mike Person (ankle), C Weston Richburg (knee), CB Richard Sherman (calf, heel), T Joe Staley (ankle), S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder).