Here’s how inaccurate 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer was on Sunday:
On one of his first-half incompletions, the referee felt obligated to turn his microphone on and inform the crowd that there was indeed a receiver in the vicinity and therefore it wasn’t intentional grounding.
Another deep throw, this one in the fourth quarter, was caught. But the receiver was coach Kyle Shanahan, who was standing three yards out of bounds on the 49ers sideline and who tossed the ball away in disgust.
San Francisco’s 18-15 loss to the Cardinals was another lousy game for Hoyer, who connected on fewer than half of his 49 pass attempts and who for the fourth straight game threw an interception, one that former 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said came to him “like a punt return.”
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“The quarterback threw it up, and playing centerfield, I went up and got it,” said Bethea, whom the Cardinals signed as a free agent in the offseason. “I’ve been in this league a while, and they always say, ‘Catch the ones they throw to you.’”
Still, the 49ers had a chance for their first win of the season when in overtime Hoyer engineered a 17-play drive that included third-down throws to Trent Taylor and Carlos Hyde and set up a first-and-goal situation at the Arizona 8-yard line with 3:12 left to play.
Two Hyde runs gained a total of three yards. On third down, Hoyer took the snap, looked to his left and then threw the ball out of the end zone. That sent Robbie Gould onto the field for his fifth field goal in as many attempts and a brief 49ers lead. And it meant that for the third time in four games, the 49ers failed to score a touchdown.
“We were looking for man coverage and hoping we could get some one-on-ones,” Hoyer said afterward of the third-down play. “It just wasn’t there.”
The decision to throw on third down also meant that the clock stopped with 2:28 left. That gave the Cardinals time to march downfield and for Carson Palmer, who to that point had had nearly as ugly a game as Hoyer, to throw a 19-yard touchdown to receiver Larry Fitzgerald that ended the game.
Fitzgerald was coming off a 13-catch, 149-yard game against the Dallas Cowboys, and the 49ers seemed determined to take him out of the offense on Sunday. They consistently switched coverages against him, which mostly had the desired effect. Before the final throw, Fitzgerald had just three catches for 13 yards.
But the 49ers may have confused themselves on the touchdown, which Fitzgerald snagged in the back of the end zone before cornerback Rashard Robinson could converge from the outside.
“They got a little out of sorts on that last play at the end,” Palmer said. “There was some miscommunication and they weren’t doing what they were doing earlier.”
The Cardinals had a similar defensive plan. They placed their top cornerback, Patrick Peterson, on San Francisco’s best receiver, Pierre Garcon, throughout the game. A week after his 142-yard performance against the Los Angeles Rams, Garcon caught four of the eight passes that went his way for 36 yards.
Hoyer said the 49ers knew that might happen and had planned for a heavy workload for the team’s No. 2 receiver, Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin, however, left the game in the first half with a concussion, leading to Aldrick Robinson’s busiest game of the season. He led San Francisco with 52 receiving yards.
Robinson, however, also couldn’t bring in a deep pass from Hoyer late in the game while tight end Logan Paulsen dropped a nicely thrown pass down the sideline earlier on.
“You have to throw and catch better,” Shanahan said after the game. “It’s as simple as that, or at least it was in this game. When guys are open and you have time, you have to hit them. When he does hit you, you have to catch it. I know nobody’s perfect, but there was way too much of that between both positions today.”