A 49ers team that hoped to hit its stride in the second half of the season is regressing. And shrinking.
San Francisco lost five more players during Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, including free safety Jaquiski Tartt, who emerged from the team’s busy X-ray room with the same forearm fracture the teammate he was replacing at free safety, Jimmie Ward, suffered last week.
Rookie receiver Trent Taylor hurt his ribs, fullback Kyle Juszczyk re-injured his neck, two others suffered knee injuries and a sixth, tight end George Kittle, limped through the game after spraining his ankle on the 49ers’ opening play.
Then there’s quarterback C.J. Beathard, who had been roughed up in his previous two starts and who was absolutely battered by the Cardinals. The rookie absorbed 16 hits from Arizona’s blitzing defense, including five sacks. By contrast, Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton wasn’t sacked.
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Beathard’s beating – and the rate at which 49ers players were being helped off the field – had everyone scanning the sideline to see if just-arrived Jimmy Garoppolo was warming up. Garoppolo took a few practices passes, did some squats and stretching by the 49ers bench, but at no point was poised to enter in relief of Beathard.
“That wasn’t going to happen today,” said coach Kyle Shanahan, who carefully avoided putting a date on Garoppolo’s 49ers debut.
Instead the 49ers coach praised Beathard, who got to his feet more slowly against the Cardinals than he did after getting knocked down in previous games but showed no other signs – bolting from the pocket, timidness in the face of the pass rush – he was bothered by the abuse.
“That’s what’s so impressive to me about him,” Shanahan said. “I think those hits affect almost everybody. I haven’t seen them affect him.”
Beathard said the most pain he felt Sunday was a self-inflicted wound.
“It was when I was throwing, I hit somebody’s helmet with my thumb,” he said. “That was the most painful thing. My neck got twisted around on the false start. That one didn’t feel great.”
The 49ers’ only touchdown came on a one-yard run by Beathard in the third quarter and his teammates echoed Shanahan’s thoughts on the rookie’s moxie and courage.
Still, the game was the 49ers’ ninth loss and the third in a row in which they managed only 10 points. Beathard finished with another lousy passer rating, 57.1, which took a hit when he threw an interception deep in Cardinals territory as the 49ers were trying to rally in the fourth quarter.
It was his fourth interception in three starts and came on a play in which he was trying to throw the ball away. Instead it deflected off tackle Trent Brown’s helmet and into the hands of linebacker Karlos Dansby.
Beathard’s 50.9 completion rate is the lowest of any quarterback in the league, even Cleveland Browns rookie DeShone Kizer (52.1 percent).
But it’s hard to blame on the losses on Beathard, considering what has been happening around him.
Receiver Marquise Goodwin had a season-high 55-yard catch in the first half. But he also dropped an easy reception for a first down in the second half, one of five drops by 49ers pass catchers Sunday. Goodwin is San Francisco’s top receiver now that Pierre Garcon is finished for the season with a neck injury.
The 49ers began the game with 15 players on injured reserve. They played Sunday without left tackle Joe Staley and then lost a tight end, the team’s only fullback and its top slot receiver. Shanahan said the game plan had to be curtailed with every injury.
“It was kind of every quarter having to adjust to certain things just personnel wise, what you can do,” he said. “It changes everything up when you lose those different key spots.”