If anything, the San Francisco 49ers have become good at repeating themselves.
Last October, Kyle Shanahan’s club lost a heart-breaker when probable future Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald hauled in a touchdown in overtime to give the Cardinals an 18-15 victory in the desert.
The story was similar Sunday, though it wasn’t Fitzgerald who put the dagger in San Francisco’s heart. But he helped rookie quarterback Josh Rosen find the way.
The 49ers lost again, 18-15, with the Cardinals scoring a touchdown in the final minute to give San Francisco its sixth straight defeat. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense had a chance to push the game to overtime or win, much it like it did during last-minute losses to the Chargers and Packers in recent weeks, but late-game snafus were an issue again.
Shanahan’s team fell to 1-7, tied with the New York Giants for the worst record in the NFL. It was the 49ers’ second loss this month to the Cardinals, who also went into the game 1-6.
The game was sealed when a snap sailed over quarterback C.J. Beathard with seven seconds remaining as the 49ers were nearing a chance at a desperation field-goal attempt.
“It’s tough,” Shanahan said. “Guys are really hurting in there. And they should be. If they weren’t, something’s wrong with them. But it’s our job. This is what we do. This is our livelihood. We’re not happy at all with where the season’s gone. And there’s still half the season to play. We need to step it up, and we need to do something about it.”
The 49ers led 15-3 lead after Robbie Gould kicked a 20-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. But Rosen, who passed for 252 yards, orchestrated two touchdown drives. The first score went to Fitzgerald, who beat third-string safety Tyvis Powell on a 13-yard catch.
Rookie Christian Kirk, who was drafted three picks after the 49ers tapped receiver Dante Pettis in Round 2, had the winning 9-yard touchdown catch with 39 seconds left, also beating Powell on a move inside toward the back of the end zone as he took a hit from Jimmie Ward, who played free safety for the first time since last season.
“There are not many words you can say that will make them feel better right now,” Shanahan said of his players. “I appreciate how hard they fought, but when you come up short, you’ve got to man up and you’ve got to deal with it.
“What you can say is how do we respond these next four days, just working and not feeling sorry for ourselves.”
On the bright side, the 49ers have a quick turnaround before hosting the Raiders (1-6) on Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium. But the 49ers will be banged up.
Cornerback Richard Sherman had a pronounced limp after the game as he continues to work through a calf injury that has cost two-plus games already. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt left midway through Sunday’s loss with a shoulder injury, and his replacement, Antone Exum Jr., left with a concussion, forcing Powell into the game late. The Cardinals certainly noticed and focused their attention on Powell’s side of the field during the final scoring drives.
Additionally, oft-injured linebacker Reuben Foster went to the locker room at the two-minute warning before halftime with a hamstring injury and didn’t return.
San Francisco entered the game without center Weston Richburg and receiver Pierre Garçon. It led to the second-worst statistical output of the season, 267 yards, following last week’s 228 in the blowout defeat to the Rams.
“We have four days to fix it,” Shanahan said. “And sitting around feeling sorry for yourself or pointing fingers isn’t going to help us do anything. We need to get better on every facet and find a way to win on Thursday.”
The 49ers won the turnover battle (2-0) for the second time this season (the first was their lone victory against Detroit). Tartt intercepted Rosen, leading to a second-quarter field goal, and the 49ers were gifted a fumble in the fourth quarter by tight end Jermaine Gresham in a wild sequence that required a lengthy review. They also had a safety in the first quarter when Cassius Marsh drilled Rosen in the end zone. Rosen was flagged for intentional grounding.
San Francisco entered the game with the most giveaways (18) and fewest takeaways (three) in the NFL. The 49ers committed five turnovers while not forcing any in a 10-point loss to Arizona on Oct. 7 in Santa Clara.
“That was probably our most sound game,” Sherman said. “Obviously, you don’t like the results, but you’ve got to be happy with how hard our guys fought and just stayed disciplined the whole game.”
Beathard passed for 190 yards while completing 14 of 28. His 83.9 passer rating was his second-best in his five starts since replacing Jimmy Garoppolo, largely because it was his first without throwing an interception.
“There’s so many (emotional losses) that, we feel like we could’ve or should’ve won,” Beathard said. “But it comes down to (that) we didn’t.”
The Cardinals entered Sunday with the league’s 32nd-ranked offense. San Francisco hasn’t beaten Arizona since December 2014.
Their collective resolve will be challenged over the final eight games of the lost campaign.
“It’s pretty taxing, emotionally,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “It hurts.”