The consensus entering this season was that because the 49ers lost so many key players over the offseason they inevitably would struggle – unless quarterback Colin Kaepernick dramatically improved and lifted his team.
Instead, Kaepernick was the No. 1 reason the 49ers tumbled 47-7 to the division-leading Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. He threw a career-high four interceptions – two of his first four passes were returned for touchdowns – and finished with a career-low 16.7 passer rating.
“Today was 100 percent my fault,” a contrite Kaepernick said. “There’s nothing anyone in that locker room could have done to change the game today the way I played.”
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The outing conjured up some of the most dreadful quarterback performances and most woeful 49ers squads in franchise history:
▪ Kaepernick was the first 49ers quarterback to throw two interceptions for touchdowns since Steve DeBerg did it against the Los Angeles Rams in 1980.
▪ No 49ers quarterback had thrown as many as four interceptions since Trent Dilfer threw four in a 31-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers in 2007.
▪ The 49ers finished with 53 net passing yards. They finished with 28 net passing yards in 2005 against the Chicago Bears. But that game was played in such a fierce wind that the Bears’ kicker had trouble staying on his feet. Sunday’s game was played under a closed roof.
Coach Jim Tomsula and others said the 49ers seemed to bounce back well in practice after their 43-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. But for the second straight game, an opponent finished with a combination of:
There’s nothing anyone in that locker room could have done to change the game today the way I played.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick
▪ A quarterback with 300 or more passing yards (Carson Palmer finished with 311);
▪ A pass catcher who surpassed 100 receiving yards (Larry Fitzgerald had 134 yards plus two touchdowns);
▪ And a running back with two or more touchdowns (Chris Johnson scored two in the second quarter).
It was also the second straight game in which the 49ers (1-2) were out of the contest by halftime, when the Cardinals (3-0) led 31-7.
After the loss to the Steelers, linebacker NaVorro Bowman noted the stalwarts who helped make the 49ers so dominant in recent years no longer were around. He again pointed to his team’s inexperience after Sunday’s rout.
“We have a young team here and, if you do the math, maybe that’s the reason,” he said.
Added linebacker Ahmad Brooks: “The losses that we had were big people – guys like Justin Smith and Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. Those are big shoes to fill. But at the end of the day, we’re all professionals. We’re all here for a reason. So this is our team and we’ve got to make the best out of who we have.”
On the 49ers’ third play from scrimmage, Kaepernick threw off his back foot to tight end Vernon Davis. The ball was snatched instead by cornerback Justin Bethel, who easily ran in for a 21-yard touchdown.
The next drive was almost a carbon copy: Kaepernick wasn’t sure where to go with the ball, was pressured in the pocket and threw to his right, this time to receiver Anquan Boldin. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was covering someone else on the play. But as the ball left Kaepernick’s hand, Mathieu left his man, stepped in front of Boldin and returned the pickoff 33 yards, reaching the end zone at nearly the same spot Bethel did one drive earlier.
53 Net passing yardage by the 49ers
Tomsula and his coaches obviously tried to rebuild their quarterback’s confidence after his initial mistakes. Following his second interception, which came with 9:03 left in the first quarter, the 49ers called 13 consecutive running plays until Kaepernick threw the ball again at the end of the second quarter.
“That was on me,” Tomsula said. “I told our runs coach, ‘Let’s get that thing running a little bit. Let’s calm things down.’ ”
Still, Kaepernick and San Francisco’s offense never got on track. His first play of the second half also was an interception, again by Mathieu.
Tomsula said he never considered removing Kaepernick, and backup Blaine Gabbert kept his red baseball cap on – instead of a helmet – throughout the contest.
Tomsula said he thought it would be worse if he didn’t allow Kaepernick to fight through his struggles.
“Colin is our quarterback,” he said.