GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When a team isn't expecting something from an offense -- which is rare in the NFL -- the first half of Sunday's Arizona Cardinals game is the result.

The San Francisco 49ers came out five wide without two tight ends, spreading Arizona's defense and allowing Colin Kaepernick to run for 45 yards in the half.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriFrank Gore had just one carry in the second half, allowing the Cardinals defense to capitalize on a 49ers offense that abandoned the run.
"It was a different game plan than we technically prepared for," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Nobody thought they were going to come out and throw the ball like they did like that. We thought they were going to run the ball [more].

"They came out in five wide and hurry-up and threw the ball short. [Kaepernick] was precise. He was quick. I think that he just played great."

It was basketball on grass, veteran linebacker Larry Foote said, as San Francisco dinked and dunked their way to a 14-6 lead at halftime.

Of Kaepernick's 37 attempts Sunday, 30 were for within 10 yards or less of the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Arizona struggled to counter the hurry-up offense. Cornerback Patrick Peterson said the defensive calls came in wrong. At one point, the Cardinals were flagged for having 12 players on the field.

The 49ers' first two drives Sunday each went for 80 yards, ate up more than 8 minutes and resulted in touchdowns. They marched through Arizona's defense at will and while Kaepernick was able to find his lanes in the first half, running nine times for almost 50 yards, he threw 18 times for 116 yards.

That was Foote's introduction to Kaepernick, whom he had never played before then.

"He is that fast," Foote said. "Some guys take a minute to get going. Naw. He was slippery and fast."

At halftime, Arizona adjusted and regrouped.

"We talked about the first five minutes of the third quarter being huge," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "We were down again and we had to make a stop defensively, make some first downs and hopefully get some points offensively, and we were able to get a touchdown. From there, it snowballed."

The Cardinals held the 49ers on their opening drive of the third quarter and scored on the offense's first possession. Arizona began winning first and second down, Campbell said, and it helped that the 49ers went away from the run game. They gave Frank Gore one carry in the second half, abandoning the run just 37 seconds into the half, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Arizona held the 49ers to third-and-long four times in the second half. Two of them led to punts. Another one turned into third-and-23 on a penalty, which resulted in a blocked field goal on fourth down.

"We put pressure on them," Campbell said. "We got a little tighter in press coverage and took away the short throws and made him hold the ball a little longer. We tackled well in the run game and we got them in third and long."

The numbers of the second half told the story. Arizona held San Francisco to 16 rushing yards -- including Kaepernick to 9 -- in the final 30 minutes. The 49ers had to do everything by air but even that wasn't that effective, accounting for just six first of their seven first downs in the second half.

The Cardinals' defense limited the 49ers to one converted third down on 27 second-half plays.

"We [didn't] blink," Foote said. "We just knew on the sideline we need to get them on the ground and play basketball with them.

"Something's brewing in this locker room and hopefully we keep going."

Russell Wilson trumps Manning in end

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
SEATTLE -- Now isn’t that what everyone was expecting to see in the Super Bowl seven months ago?

After Peyton Manning led the Denver Broncos on an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of the fourth quarter, including a two-point conversion pass to tie the game, Manning was out-Manning-ed by Russell Wilson.

The Seattle quarterback made sure Manning wouldn’t get another chance, leading the Seahawks on an 80-yard drive to win the game 26-20 in overtime on Marshawn Lynch's 6-yard touchdown run.

It was the 11th time in his three-year NFL career that Wilson has led the Seahawks to a victory when they were tied or trailed the opponent in the fourth quarter or OT.

"He’s just an amazing football player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Wilson. "He really is. He just keeps a drive alive. It’s really hard to stop us in that situation, because he’s so good at it. He makes something happen."

Wilson accounted for 56 yards on the OT drive, 35 passing and 21 rushing. He converted two third downs by scrambling for the first down, once for five years on a third-and-3 and another for five yards on a third-and-4 at the Denver 29.

"Anybody who loves football, or even if you don’t love football, that was one for the ages," Wilson said. "You have a guy like Peyton Manning to go up against, that’s what you want. It was a battle to the end. It definitely felt like a Super Bowl out there today."

The Seattle defense, which had a terrible day one week ago in the 30-21 loss at San Diego, had shut down Manning and the Broncos most of the day until a total collapse on the final drive when Denver tied it with 18 seconds to play.

"He’s still Peyton Manning," said Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP last February. "He still had some magic left in his pocket. We gave that game away at the end, but Russell Wilson and the offense won it for us."

Wilson was under enormous pressure most of the day, including being sacked three times, but he passed for 258 yards, completing 24 of 34 throws.

Wilson was far from perfect against a much improved Denver defense, which had nine different starters than the defense the Seahawks faced in the 43-8 Super Bowl victory. Wilson threw his first interception in the past six games, which led to Denver’s first touchdown after the defense had shut them down for more than three quarters.

And the Broncos might have won the game in regulation if not for an interception by strong safety Kam Chancellor that he returned 52 yards, setting up a 28-yard Steven Hauschka field goal that made it 20-12 with 59 second to go.

It looked like it was over.

"You never know," Wilson said. "They have Peyton Manning over there."

And the Seahawks have Wilson, who beat the master in the end and made sure Manning didn’t get back on the field.

"I don’t want to say this the wrong way, but I was almost hoping it would happen," Wilson said of Manning’s final touchdown drive. "I was hoping our defense would make the stop. But if they didn’t, I was ready to get back on the field. I live for those moments."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Without starting tight end Vernon Davis, out nursing his injured left ankle and knee, and sans backup Vance McDonald, recovering from a right knee injury, the San Francisco 49ers decided to mix things up Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

No, not by going back to their roots under Jim Harbaugh as a power-running team and feeding the ball to 10,000-yard career rusher Frank Gore. But by running a no-huddle offense that relied on four- and sometimes five-receiver sets.

Crazy, right? Yet, it worked early as the Niners had a pair of 80-yard drives in 12 and 14 plays, respectively, to jump out to a 14-6 lead.

Surely, then, the Niners would go to their ground-and-pound attack to hold off the upstart Cardinals, right? Well …

No wonder an emotional Gore had nothing to say in the locker room after the 49ers’ 23-14 loss, being lobbed questions about his team’s lack of a running attack before finally saying, “I can’t talk right now. Sorry.”

Per ESPN Stats & Info, the 49ers only ran the ball by design 18 times, and just five times in 27 plays after halftime. Gore’s last touch came at 14:23 of the third quarter.

It was the third-lowest designed-rush percentage (28.6 percent) by the Niners with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The others -- 25 percent against the New York Giants and 25 percent against the Seattle Seahawks -- came in 2012.

The 49ers lost all three of those games by a combined 91-30.

"I was a little surprised they didn't use the running game more when the game was close," Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote said.

On Sunday, the 49ers threw the ball 37 times, the second most of Kaepernick’s career, behind the 39 passes he attempted in the 2013 season opener against the Green Bay Packers.

“I thought it worked very well,” Harbaugh said of the Niners’ passing attack against the Cardinals. “We did some good things in the personnel group. Overall, though, not enough.”

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- John Brown wasn’t supposed to be the Arizona Cardinals receiver with whom Drew Stanton clicked.

That was supposed to be the other Brown.

Jaron Brown and Stanton were automatic during training camp and in the preseason. That’s why Arizona coach Bruce Arians dialed up a deep ball from Stanton to Jaron Brown early in the fourth quarter. Arians, like anyone who watched the two this summer, expected the play to work. Until the ball hit the turf, it looked like the countless other bombs Stanton launched to him during camp.

[+] EnlargeJohn Brown
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriThe chemistry that WR John Brown has built with QB Drew Stanton paid dividends for Arizona on Sunday.
“I know he wants that one back to Jaron because they never miss,” Arians said. “They haven’t missed the entire preseason, and he kind of got a little bit excited with that one.”

Stanton had to settle for rookie John Brown. As it turned out, there could have been worse options. The pair connected for two second-half touchdowns and propelled Arizona past the San Francisco 49ers 23-14 Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was the Cardinals' first win over the 49ers since 2011.

On the first touchdown, Stanton hit Brown cutting through the middle of the Niners’ secondary, almost ignored.

“They just forgot me on [that] play because we had a route coming in, and the cornerback jumped it, and the safety flew all the way, and I was just open down the middle,” said Brown, whose mother, Cassandra, was in the stands from Florida on Sunday.

At that point, Arizona was down 14-13. In his second start since 2010 -- the first coming this past week -- Stanton had a chip on his shoulder. Stanton made his first career start with the Detroit Lions against San Francisco in Week 15 of 2009. He was benched almost seven minutes into the fourth quarter after he threw his third interception. He never forgot that feeling.

“I’ve never been a guy that’s been worried about my stats,” Stanton said. “I think I care much more about a team and about winning, but that one stung me. It’ll test you in this league, and you have to constantly go out there and prove yourself. I feel like a little bit of a weight came off my shoulders today, without a doubt.”

On the next drive Sunday, Stanton got pummeled on consecutive plays. On the first, linebacker Dan Skuta hit Stanton when he began his slide after scrambling. On the next play, Niners linebacker Patrick Willis knocked Stanton with the crown of his helmet. Both plays drew 15-yard penalties and set the Cardinals up for the winning touchdown.

The touchdown pass again went to Brown, this time on a pump fake, but almost to the exact same spot.

“The timing, it’s always perfect, even though I got a lot of work with Carson [Palmer],” Brown said. “I took time out with both of them because I run with the ones and the twos, so it helped me out big time.”

Stanton and Brown’s chemistry was built during camp, when Brown split his time working with the starters and the backups, but Brown has spent most of his time during the season working with Palmer. That helped Brown learn the wrinkles of the offense, from which Stanton reaped the benefits Sunday.

“You almost want to tell him to slow down at times because he runs through zones,” Stanton said. “You’re like, ‘If it’s man, run away from that guy. If it’s zone, then find that zone and stay there.’ He’s getting it, and he understands it, but sometimes he just needs to slow down because the game is fast.”

And it’s not like the two are strangers.

A lot was made earlier this season about Brown’s locker being right next to Palmer’s. But who’s on the other side of Brown? Stanton.

49ers' second-half meltdowns continue

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
videoGLENDALE, Ariz. -- The San Francisco 49ers have been outscored in the second half by a combined 52-3 thus far this season.

The meltdowns after halftime are so unlike what fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh has built in his tenure with the Super Bowl contenders. And the reasons behind the implosions? Even more baffling.

Penalties. A lack of adjustments at the half. More penalties. And, well, overall sloppy, undisciplined play.

And not even Harbaugh comprehends what is going on with his team, which fell to 1-2 in the NFC West after Sunday’s 23-14 loss to the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals.

“No, I don’t [understand],” Harbaugh said. “We’ve just got to play better. We’re not playing good enough right now.”

Thing is, they play lights out in the first half. The Niners have scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions of a game and shocked the Cardinals with a hurry-up offense that featured four- and sometimes five-wideout alignments.

Arizona had no answer for Colin Kaepernick, who equaled a career high with 14 completions in the first half, in 18 attempts, for 116 yards, while also running the ball a career-high nine times in the first half, for 45 yards. And the Niners led 14-6 at intermission.

Then the Cardinals made adjustments. The Niners? Not so much.

“We have to score more,” Kaepernick said, matter-of-factly.

And commit fewer penalties. Or, as receiver Anquan Boldin told it, have the referees call it more evenly.

Last week, the 49ers were flagged 16 times (a high under Harbaugh) for 118 yards, while the Chicago Bears had 10 penalties for 58 yards.

This time the Niners incurred nine penalties for 107 yards; the Cardinals, five for 36 yards.

“They wear black and white,” Boldin said, when asked if he could pinpoint why the 49ers have struggled in the second half.

“It’s been obvious the last two weeks. The amount of calls that have gone against us and the amount of calls that we’ve gotten hasn’t been close. Every week it’s the same thing. We send the tape in, the NFL just reports back, ‘We made a mistake.’ At the same time, the crap is costing us games. At some point, they need to be held accountable.”

Asked if great teams should able to play through such things, Boldin, who owned his own unnecessary roughness penalty for head-butting Tony Jefferson, shrugged.

“You try to,” he said, “but at crucial points in the game like that, how can you?”

Two particularly galling penalties from the Niners’ perspective -- on consecutive plays in the third quarter, and with the 49ers clinging to a 14-13 lead, linebacker Dan Skuta was flagged for unnecessary roughness on his tackle near the head of a sliding Drew Stanton on a second-and-6 play before Patrick Willis drew a roughing-the-passer penalty on Stanton.

The 30 yards in penalties helped set up the Cardinals in their 66 yard, five-play TD drive that gave them a 20-14 lead with 4:39 to go in the third quarter.

“We’ve got to do a better job -- as coaches and players,” a stunned Harbaugh said, “of not getting those penalties.”

Yet, it might just be one sign of deeper problems in the second half.
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Seahawks' 26-20 overtime victory over Denver:
  • Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith on the defense: “We blew that game, but Russell Wilson and the offense saved us.”
  • Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Wilson leading the team on the 80-yard overtime touchdown drive: “He’s just an amazing football player. He really is. It’s really hard to stop us in that situation because he’s so good at it.”
  • Strong safety Kam Chancellor on his fourth-quarter interception: “Sometimes you make them, and sometimes you don’t. That’s part of being high risk, high reward.”
NEW ORLEANS -- How's that for closing out a victory?

After failing to preserve leads in the final seconds during the first two games of the season, the New Orleans Saints defense shut out the Minnesota Vikings over the final 25 minutes instead on Sunday, securing a 20-9 victory.

The Saints held Minnesota to a total of 247 yards and zero touchdowns in the victory, never letting the Vikings cross midfield on their final two drives.

“When everyone does their jobs and executes, that’s what this defense is supposed to look like,” said linebacker Curtis Lofton, who was arguably the Saints’ MVP of the game with a team-high eight tackles, including a handful of impressive open-field stops -- one of them against dangerous playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson for a 7-yard loss.

The defensive performance was admittedly not perfect. The Saints did not force a turnover, and they gave up too many big plays throughout the game (three plays of 28 yards or more).

However, the Saints defense tightened up every time. Minnesota made three trips inside the Saints’ 22-yard line during the first 35 minutes but settled for field goals.

“That’s huge,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of New Orleans’ red-zone defense. “That’s one thing we did when we were playing well last year, and we did it today.”

The Saints made some changes after suffering too many breakdowns in the secondary last week.

They demoted former starting cornerback Patrick Robinson, relegating him to special teams. Corey White started at cornerback, with safety Rafael Bush coming in as the fifth defensive back and rookie cornerback Brian Dixon coming in on dime packages (though Robinson played that role briefly after Dixon suffered a minor injury).

The Saints also referenced simplifying some of their schemes a bit, as well as studying hard all week with an emphasis on knowing the game plan “inside and out.”

That game plan was thrown for a bit of a loop when the Vikings switched to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater following Matt Cassel’s foot injury in the second quarter. Bridgewater was much more dangerous with his feet, scrambling to keep plays alive -- even when the Saints started using five rushers more to contain him.

But Payton praised the Saints’ secondary for keeping tight coverage even when Bridgewater made plays last longer.

“He’s scrambling, we’re scrambling,” said Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was also pleased with the Saints’ improved performance -- but not getting carried away with it.

“You gotta be real about situation, we’re at home, where we’ve been great forever,” Vaccaro said. “We gotta keep working, and we’ve gotta become more of a complete team on the road and at home.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cardinals’ 23-14 victory over San Francisco:
  • Linebacker Larry Foote sat at his locker in an undershirt and ripped jeans, bruised from another physical outing but optimistic. The 34-year-old had just experienced his first NFC West game and was excited about how the defense rebounded from two first-half drives in which they allowed San Francisco to go 80 yards and score on each. “Something’s brewing in this locker room, and hopefully we keep going,” he said.
  • Antonio Cromartie, who left the game in the third quarter with a left knee injury, was standing on it at his locker after the game. “Everything’s OK,” Cromartie said. “I will find out what’s going on with it tomorrow.”
  • Rookie wide receiver John Brown said he woke up Sunday morning and told roommate rookie safety Deone Bucannon he felt a touchdown coming. Brown scored two Sunday.

Frank Gore: 'I can't talk right now'

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers 23-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium:
  • Gore
    Amid a stunned and silent locker room, running back Frank Gore, the 49ers’ longest-tenured position player, had little to say after the loss. He paused for up to 10 seconds between questions before offering no answers. Finally, he waved off the media horde and said, "I can’t talk right now. Sorry." Then he buried his head in his hands. Gore had 10 yards rushing on six carries, and rookie Carlos Hyde carried the ball three times for 13 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown.
  • Receiver Anquan Boldin owned his unnecessary roughness penalty for head-butting Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (Boldin got away with a similar action in the playoffs the past season against Carolina’s Mike Mitchell), but was quite steamed at the disparity and timing of penalties -- San Francisco was flagged nine times for 107 yards; the Cardinals drew five flags for 36 yards. "If you look at it, it’s unbelievable," he said. "We’ll send the tape into the league, and they’ll say, 'We made a mistake.' But [Arizona] got 30 yards down the field (on those calls), and some were coming at crucial times ... if you’re going to call it, call it both ways." Boldin can probably expect a FedEx folder with a letter for a fine at his locker this week.
  • Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, again rocking his big-lens sunglasses inside, shifted his stance again in the wake of a report that he used the "N-word" last week, which got him a penalty for "inappropriate language" and a fine of $11,025. After saying last week, "I didn’t say anything," he said he did not say anything "racially deragotory" to Lamarr Houston. Pressed on the issue, Kaepernick then said, "I talk on the football field -- yes, I do." It cast a pall over an already dour locker room.
ST. LOUIS -- Since veteran quarterback Shaun Hill suffered a calf injury late in the opener against Minnesota, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never budged from his stance on who his starting quarterback is.

According to Fisher, if Hill is healthy, he's the starter, regardless of what Austin Davis does in his stead.

Even after Davis went 30-of-42 for 327 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the Rams' 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Fisher wouldn't waver.

"No, I’ve stood behind that decision,” Fisher said.

Well, it's time for Fisher to reconsider. The Rams enter their bye week at 1-2 and will need every bit of that time to correct the many problems plaguing them. But Fisher should also use that time to sit down with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and have an honest conversation.

Last week, Davis did enough to earn the trust of the coaching staff to garner another start against Dallas. This week, he did enough to show that he should get a chance to be the starter moving forward. In two starts, Davis is 52-of-71 for 562 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 98.4.

Since the Rams drafted Sam Bradford with the first pick in 2010, Davis' passer ratings in each of the past two weeks would rank as the 14th and 15th best performances in a game by a Rams quarterback, a span covering 67 games. Davis' 327 passing yards is the fifth-highest output by a Rams signal caller in that time.

Anytime a decision has to be made between two quarterbacks or, really, any two players, it comes down to which player gives the team the best chance to win. It's understandable that Fisher would want to stick by the veteran Hill had Davis been pedestrian or worse the past two weeks against subpar defenses. Davis has been better than that. He's been good enough to earn his chance or at least a deeper look than "I've stood by that decision."

When asked why he's been so steadfast in standing by Hill, Fisher has pointed to Hill's strong start against Minnesota in the time before his late first-half interception. Hill is a team captain and a veteran respected by his peers.

But even if Hill is able to return and approximate Davis' performance, it still makes more sense to go with Davis at this point. At 34 and on a one-year contract, Hill's tenure in St. Louis doesn't figure to be a long one.

Davis is 25 and in his third season in the league. Playing Davis allows the Rams to see what they have in him beyond this year while still offering them the chance to stay competitive and win games now.

"I’m not really thinking about it, honestly," Davis said. "I just wanted to come in, play hard for this team and give us a chance to win. This one hurts, we’d like to have gotten the win. Coach Fisher has been pretty clear when Shaun is healthy he’ll be the starter. Until I hear different, that’s my approach."

Given some time to reflect on the upcoming bye week, perhaps Fisher will give it more thought. The conclusion he should reach is that Davis is the best option for this team now while also providing hope for the future.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 26-20 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

What it means: Now that was the game everyone thought the Super Bowl would be. After giving up a game-tying drive at the end of the fourth quarter, Seattle took the ball 80 yards at the start of the overtime period and won it on Marshawn Lynch's 6-yard run. The Seahawks (2-1) proved they’re still the best in the Super Bowl rematch and got the bad taste out of their mouths after the past weekend’s loss at San Diego.

Stock watch: After giving up 31 points one week ago at San Diego, the Seahawks defense was back to its physical and aggressive self and shut down Peyton Manning most of the game until a complete collapse on the final drive. Even so, the Seahawks defense was strong. It gave up 10 first downs on third down plays the past week. Denver is 6-of-16 on third downs. Manning and the Broncos have scored only three touchdowns on the Seahawks in eight quarters, and one Sunday came after an interception gave Denver the ball on the Seattle 19 in the fourth quarter.

Game ball: It goes to Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor, who saved the day with an interception when Denver had a third-and-11 at the Seattle 24 late in the fourth quarter. After a horrible game last week, when he was involved in all three touchdowns caught by San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, Chancellor had nine tackles (six solo) and two passes defended Sunday. He almost had another interception when the ball hit the turf just before he grabbed it.

Lockette saves day in two ways: Wide receiver Ricardo Lockette prevented a Denver score at the start of a drive and caught a touchdown pass to end the same drive in the second quarter. Lockette was well covered by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib on a short out route when Wilson’s throw was headed into the arms of Talib, who would have had clear sailing for a possible pick-six. But Lockette grabbed him before the ball arrived to prevent him from catching it, the best offensive interference decision you’ll ever see. Lockette then got by Talib for a 39-yard touchdown catch from Russell Wilson. Lockette also made a great one-armed tackle on a punt to stop Isaiah Burse in his tracks at the Denver 17 in the third quarter.

Boomer Jon: You can’t do much better punting than Jon Ryan did Sunday. Maybe the Canadian punter was fired up from the pregame, when O Canada was sung with Canadian Mounties and the Canadian flag on the field. Ryan had punts of 61 and 66 yards on his first two boots. He also pinned the Broncos deep twice, back at the 7-yard-line. After a safety in the fourth quarter, Ryan boomed the ball 79 yards to the Denver 1 before it was returned to the 23.

What’s next: The Seahawks enter their bye week before heading across the country to play the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football on Oct. 6. It's the first time the Seahawks have played the Redskins since the playoff game two years ago, which Seattle won 24-14 at FedExField.

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 23-14 loss to the the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: A shocking lack of discipline, especially in the second half, doomed the 49ers for a second week in a row. The Niners were flagged nine times for 107 yards, which kept alive Cardinals drives and wore out the defense. The 49ers have scored on their opening offensive drive in all three games thus far, but they have been outscored by a combined 52-3 in the second half. Ouch. The Cardinals are 3-0, while the 49ers and St. Louis Rams are 1-2.

Stock watch: Rising -- Colin Kaepernick. Sure, he slowed down a bit after halfime, again. But he was without his security blanket in Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. After the past week's four turnover meltdown and penalty for “inappropriate language” against the Chicago Bears, Kaepernick atoned as the Cardinals had no answer for the dual-threat quarterback early. Kaepernick finished with 245 yards through the air on 29-of-37 passing while rushing for a 49ers-high 54 yards on 13 carries. In the Niners' first two drives, which culminated in touchdowns, Kaepernick was 11-of-12 passing for 94 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 44 yards on eight carries. His 14 completions in the first half tied for the most before halftime in his career, and his nine rushing attempts were his most in the game's first 30 minutes.

No tight ends? No matter: Davis was inactive with his injured left ankle and knee, as was backup Vance McDonald. The Niners responded with a hurry-up offense, complete with four- and sometimes five-receiver sets. And even third-string tight end Derek Carrier got in on the fun and came down with a clutch 23-yard reception in traffic for a first down on third-and-1. The lack of a security blanket hurt late, though.

And the game ball goes to: Stevie Johnson entered the game with four catches for 59 yards in his first two games as a member of the 49ers. Against the Cardinals, he had nine receptions for 103 yards.

What's next: The 49ers (1-2) play host to the Philadelphia Eagles (3-0), who survived a brutal game against division rival Washington 37-34, while quarterback Nick Foles threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-41 passing, though he was shaken up. Before the Niners beat the Eagles 24-23 on Oct. 2, 2011, Philadelphia had won five straight in the series.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-14 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.

What it means: This is a team that knows how to scrap together a win. It was tough at halftime to believe the Cardinals could come back, but whatever Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said worked. The second-half Cardinals looked nothing like the first-half Cardinals. (However, some credit has to be given to the 49ers for imploding for a third consecutive second half.) And that’s good news for this team, which might be without starter Carson Palmer for a while. Arizona figured out a way to slow down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second half, and on offense, the Cardinals were able to convert on third down and turn scoring opportunities into touchdowns instead of field goals. If Arizona can start putting together full games, it could be a dangerous squad.

Stock watch: Ted Ginn Jr.'s ability in the return game and as a receiver were well known, which is why Arizona signed him during free agency. But what he’s added in other facets has been a bonus. He threw a pass Sunday -- 10 yards to Michael Floyd for a first down -- and he was used on a jet sweep that he cut inside.

Second-half shutdown: After Kaepernick ran at will in the first half, Arizona held him to 9 rushing yards on four carries and 102 passing yards in the second half. Arizona also held San Francisco to six first downs in the second half and just 16 rushing yards as a whole.

Game ball: Quarterback Drew Stanton took the hits and kept on ticking. He threw for 244 yards on 18-for-33 passing. His two touchdown passes to John Brown gave Arizona the lead for good.

What’s next: The Cardinals are off next week before traveling to Denver in Week 5.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much was made of the St. Louis Rams' defense, particularly its pass rush in the weeks and months leading into the 2014 season.

After drafting defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round, some even went so far as to question whether the Rams could offer an updated version of the Fearsome Foursome. At minimum, the Rams' marketing and social media teams embraced the hashtag #SackCity.

The nickname SackCity has thus far been surprisingly appropriate. Sack as in one, as in the singular sack the defense has been able to muster in the first three games of the season. That was a sack credited on further review to Donald last week against Tampa Bay. There was another that the league took away upon further review in Week 1 against Minnesota.

That would have been an improvement over what the Rams got Sunday in a 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in which they blew an early 21-0 lead. Yes, the Rams managed 31 points (seven credited to the defense) and still found a way to lose the game.

"I just feel like you look at the board, you see 31 points and our defense, you think about a win," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said.

To be sure, it's not only the pass rush or the front four at fault for what took place at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday. Every level of the defense is responsible for the onslaught of points that rained down on the Rams in the second half.

But we can begin with the pass rush, the area the Rams were relying on most entering the season.

For the first time all season, the Rams were playing with a big lead and doing well enough against the run to put Dallas in third-and-long situations. To a pass-rusher, third and long is the football equivalent of a green light. The Rams figured to finally have a chance to feast. They didn't.

Yes, the Rams miss cornerstone bookend Chris Long and were facing one of the better offensive lines in the league but they did not register a sack for the second time in three contests.

"We had opportunities to get Romo down today," end William Hayes said. "There were a couple of times where it looked like he was ready to go down and they would make a play at the last minute. On those plays, we have just got to capitalize on it."

Dallas was just one-of-four on third down in the first half but as it made its second-half comeback in which it outscored the Rams 24-10 over the final 30 minutes, the Cowboys began moving the chains even in the most dire situations.

Quarterback Tony Romo and the offense hit on four-of-six third downs in the second half, including consecutive conversions from 13 and 14 yards away. On third-and-13 early in the fourth quarter, Romo scrambled for 16 yards, shaking loose linebacker Alec Ogletree to keep the drive moving. Three plays later, on third-and-14, Romo hung in the pocket for what seemed an eternity before hitting receiver Terrance Williams for 20 yards and another first down.

The Cowboys finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Williams on third-and-2 to take a 27-24 lead they would not relinquish.

Linebacker James Laurinaitis was among the many defenders left searching for answers.

"I wanted to rip my head off, to be honest with you," Laurinaitis said. "I wish I had an iPad playbook right here so I could watch them with you and tell you how I really feel. I don’t know what happened."

That's become a familiar refrain in the first three weeks from a group that boasts plenty of early-round draft picks and high-priced contracts. The Rams were built to lean on their defense to win games. On Sunday, it was the reason they lost.

Jared Cook blames himself for loss

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 34-31 loss to Dallas:
  • Cook
    Rams tight end Jared Cook had what should have been an easy 10-yard touchdown slip through his hands early in the fourth quarter, leaving the Rams to settle for a field goal. Instead of a 28-20 lead, the Rams took a 24-20 advantage. Cook's frustration with himself boiled over on the sideline when he shoved quarterback Austin Davis, who had come over to help him settle down after the drop. Defensive end William Hayes stepped in and yelled at Cook in an attempt to defuse the situation.

    After the game, a despondent Cook said he cleared the air with Davis and took the blame for the drop and the shove.

    "I was heated, like anybody else," Cook said. "I feel like I let this game slip through my hands, and that’s my fault as a man."
  • Davis had another big outing, going 30-of-42 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 98.0. Apparently that performance, combined with what he did last week, is not enough to earn him the job moving forward. Rams coach Jeff Fisher reiterated that Shaun Hill will be his starter when he returns from a calf injury.

    "No, I have said it and stood behind that decision," Fisher said.
  • Fisher declined comment on a couple of controversial calls that went against the Rams, including a defensive holding against end Eugene Sims in the game's closing moments. He said he would look at the film before offering his thoughts, presumably in his Monday news conference.