The story going into Sunday was third-overall pick Trey Lance making his first start under center for the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional showdown against the Arizona Cardinals. While the rookie had some impressive moments, San Francisco's efforts weren't enough against the now-5-0 Cardinals.
"We've got to play better football to win those games. We've lost three in a row. I think they were three games that we could have won," Kyle Shanahan said postgame. "They were good teams, not to take anything away from those guys, I thought we had every opportunity to win those three games and that's more about us than anyone else. Those penalties in some crucial situations, not being able to convert on some third and fourth downs, having the turnovers and not getting enough turnovers - those things make it hard to win.
"We've got to find a way to do better, and I've got to find a way to get us to do better. Going into this Bye week at 2-3, there's still a lot of football left to play. We've got to come back and play better than we have."
Here are a few takeaways from Sunday's match:
The 49ers were just 3-of-11 on third down, but head coach Kyle Shanahan opted to be aggressive with his play calling and go for it on five fourth down tries. Unfortunately, San Francisco only managed to capitalize on just one of those downs.
It was not the ideal start for Lance or the 49ers offense to open Sunday's contest. The rookie's first three drives resulted in turnovers. The first, an overthrown pass intended for Travis Benjamin was intercepted by Cardinals safety Budda Baker. The second and third came by way of turnover on downs, but the latter was an encouraging drive overall.
Lance led the 49ers 93 yards to Arizona's 1-yard line. The drive featured a beauty of a throw to Deebo Samuel for a 26-yard pickup and a dart of a third down throw to Brandon Aiyuk to extend the 49ers series. At the goal line on 4th-and-1, Lance kept the ball and bounced to the outside, but was stopped inches from the line to force a turnover on downs.
It took nearly 45 minutes for the offense to earn their first score of the game. Late in the third quarter, Lance orchestrated a six play, 59-yard drive that culminated in a Samuel 13-yard touchdown run to cut Arizona's lead by 3.
San Francisco had several opportunities to strike against Arizona's defense (more on the help from the 49ers defense to come), but the unit overall struggled to sustain drives. The 49ers managed to move into Arizona territory on eight of their nine drives, but only managed to capitalize on two.
Trey Lance's Performance
In his debut as the 49ers starter, Lance completed 51.7 percent of his passes for 192 yards and a pick in his first NFL start. It's worth noting the quarterback led the 49ers on the ground with 89 yards on 16 attempts. His 89 rushing yards are the most by a 49ers quarterback in a single game since Colin Kaepernick rushed for 113 yds. on 10 carries vs. the Miami Dolphins in 2016.
Per NFL Research, Lance passed Tim Tebow for the fourth-most rushing yards by a rookie quarterback in his first NFL start in the Super Bowl era, trailing only Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Randall Cunningham.
"I thought he did some really good things. Definitely wasn't perfect, which no one ever has been," Shanahan said. "That first pick I thought just sailed on him, he was going to the right spot, but it just got away from him on that first drive. Overall, I think we could have done a little bit better around him. I thought he did good enough to win."
San Francisco's defense was commendable for the majority of the contest, limiting Arizona's high-powered offense to just 3-of-10 on third down and shutting Arizona down beyond their first drive for the entirety of the first half.
The team also notched a big third down stop inside of Arizona's 10 yard line that held their offense to a field goal.
San Francisco limited Arizona to their lowest offensive output (304 net yards) and Murray's lowest passing yards (239 yards) so far this season.
The 49ers needed takeaways and finally got one. Dontae Johnson, who played some snaps in the slot with K'Waun Williams (ankle) out, recorded the 49ers lone takeaway of the game, a forced fumble that was also recovered by the cornerback.
Johnson's fumble recovery was the 49ers first takeaway since the season opener against the Detroit Lions.
"Going against that offense, those players, that quarterback (Kyler Murray), holding them to 17 points, I was very proud of those guys," Shanahan said. Especially, again, with that turnover there at the end. That was one of the more disappointing parts of the game when they got that and what we did on the next four plays."
Miscues, dropped passes and missed opportunities also nagged San Francisco for the second-straight week. A big part of the 49ers struggles were due to penalties. San Francisco was flagged seven times for 60 yards on Sunday, a number of them coming during key offensive moments to help extend drives.
Odds and Ends
- Running back Elijah Mitchell made his return to the field after missing two games with a shoulder injury. The ball carrier tallied 42 yards on nine carries. Trey Sermon saw just one carry for seven yards on the day.
Along with Lance's 89 yards, the 49ers offense rushed for 152 yards on the day, which is the most on the season and the most since the team rushed for 227 yards at Arizona on 12/26/20.
- Jones left with a stinger and was also evaluated for a head injury but returned to the field shortly after.
- Bosa also left in a series after dealing with an elbow injury on his sack against Murray. He returned to the field two plays later.
- The 49ers will take the week off for their early Bye before returning home in Week 7 to host the Indianapolis Colts.