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The Cardinals are who we thought they were ... and we let 'em off the hook! That phrase keeps ringing in my head as I try to make sense of what has to be one of the most demoralizing 49ers losses in the last decade. Just like the Cardinals' Monday night debacle against the Bears two years ago, the 49ers had what everyone thought was a superior Cardinals team on the ropes before self-destructing in the second half. Mike Singletary pulled J.T O'Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill because of O'Sullivan's penchant for second-half disasters. Well, Hill had three disastrous plays in the second half - a flubbed snap and two INTS - while a third INT for a touchdown luckily was called back on a penalty.

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You're all wondering about the curious fullback draw play that ended the game. Anyone who was watching knew that confusion reigned supreme Monday night. The officials were as discombobulated as anyone. (There were 20 penalties with several flags that were picked up.) One of the theories in the press box was that a draw to Robinson was meant to catch the Cardinals off balance. That is, the intent was to snap the ball quickly, hand it to Michael Robinson and overwhelm the Cardinals with a fast-developing play. Bang, bang. The officials may have muddied that plan by hovering over the ball and starting the clock on their signal. It gave the Cardinals an extra moment or two to set themselves.

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As defensive end Antonio Smith said after the game, he and his defensive mates were expecting a run, though probably by Frank Gore, not Robinson: "We knew they had to run the ball. We weren't respecting the pass, especially with the extra tight end in the game. We all just hunkered down, lowered our shoulders, and drove into them."

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Said Mike Singletary of the closing seconds: "I think we could have done a heck of a lot better job. I talked to the referees on a couple of those (penalties). For whatever reason, we weren't quite set. It looked like Shaun was taking all day but we have to get our guys aligned right or it's a penalty. So we had to wait on the guys to come before he could spike it. ... We lost about 10 to 12 seconds, which was a little ridiculous, but it happened." Funny, it seemed like more than 20 seconds were lost ...

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As for Hill, Singletary said, "I love Shaun" and called him a "blue-collar guy." Singletary is trying to mold (re-mold?) the 49ers into a blue-collar team and it's clear he wants Hill to guide them.

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Vernon Davis, of course, made perhaps his best catch as a pro - an 18-yarder in which he was sandwiched between two Cardinals safeties. Still, Davis managed to upstage himself with a silly illegal celebration penalty for taking off his helmet. Davis had a similar penalty in a prime time game against Seattle two years ago. The penalty didn't have any devastating consequences, but it's more evidence that Vernon Davis' worst enemy is Vernon Davis. Said Singletary: "I just told him, 'Great catch, and let's remember to be smart.'"

-- Matt Barrows

MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

June 2009

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