The 49ers, who have been as run-oriented, old-school and stodgy as any team in the league in the Jim Harbaugh era, rolled out a slick new look against Arizona on Sunday.
The 49ers rarely had used even three-receiver sets in the previous three seasons. But because of a lack of healthy tight ends, they used five wide receivers multiple times, including on five straight plays on their opening possession. The receiver-heavy look did not feature a running back, and the 49ers ran it without a huddle.
It was successful.
On their initial drive, the 49ers ran 12 plays, the last a 2-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree to make the score 7-3. They mounted a 14-play drive on their second possession capped by Carlos Hyde’s stretch run to the left side for a 6-yard touchdown.
Kaepernick’s 78.4 completion percentage (29 for 37) was his best as a starter.
“We hadn’t shown that before,” Kaepernick said “It was something new. In the second half, we ran it here and there.”
Does he wish the 49ers had been more consistent with the package?
“I’d like to do anything that’s going to help us win,” he said.
Not everyone seemed pleased with the approach.
Running back Frank Gore went to the sideline whenever the 49ers were in their five-receiver sets. He carried just once in the second half and finished with six rushes for 10 yards. Hyde had three carries for 13 yards.
Gore was too upset to speak afterward.
“I can’t talk right now,” he said after a minute of questions. “I’m sorry. I can’t talk.”
“I didn’t say anything racially derogatory to” Chicago defensive end Lamarr Houston, Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick insisted last week he didn’t say anything to Houston. But footage by San Francisco TV station KPIX clearly shows Kaepernick saying something to Houston after throwing a fourth-quarter interception. He does not appear to use a slur, although it is difficult to say exactly what was uttered.
“I talk on the football field,” Kaepernick said when pressed on the issue. “Yes, I do.”
Kaepernick was penalized for “inappropriate language” at the time. Harbaugh has said he didn’t hear anything from his spot on the sideline and that he believes Kaepernick.
“Colin’s always been truthful 100 percent of the time,” he said.
This time, it was Cardinals rookie John Brown, who caught third-quarter scoring passes of 24 and 21 yards that erased the 49ers’ halftime lead.
Ward was in coverage on the second score, and he said he was looking for help from strong safety Antoine Bethea on the play.
“Today, I knew the shots were going to come at me,” Ward said. “The second touchdown was miscommunication. I played it right. I did my job. We have to come in and get better. The crowd is loud, so we have to make sure everybody is on the same page.”
• With Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald out, Derek Carrier started at tight end. He was targeted twice and caught one pass for 23 yards.
• Chris Cook had his most extensive outing, entering at cornerback when the Cardinals used four wide receivers. Cook was flagged for a costly pass interference penalty on third down in the fourth quarter that aided Arizona on its final scoring drive, which produced a 35-yard field goal.