On a day when Blaine Gabbert posted career-best numbers against one of the NFL's top defenses, the second to last play of the game was the one that will stick with him the longest.
Gabbert didn't force a pass into tight coverage. Instead, the quarterback regretted holding the ball for too long.
The notoriously blitz-happy Arizona Cardinals sent Tony Jefferson on a 3rd-and-10 from their own 30-yard line, and the safety sacked the San Francisco 49ers quarterback for a 10-yard loss with 1:20 left to play in regulation.
"I just have to find a way to get the ball out," Gabbert said after his team fell to 3-8. "I tried to slip a tackle and maybe get a run in there, but I have to find a way to get rid of the ball. I can't take a sack there in that situation."
Following a 49ers timeout, Gabbert fired the ball on fourth down to Anquan Boldin, but the veteran receiver was tackled two yards shy of the first-down marker. San Francisco turned the ball over on downs, which led to Arizona bleeding the clock and picking up a narrow, 19-13 road victory on Sunday.
"All you can ask for is the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win and that's what it came down to," Gabbert said. "I failed to put a touchdown on the board and that's on me."
Despite falling short of a victory, the fifth-year quarterback threw for a career-high 318 yards and completed an 8-yard touchdown against the league's third-ranked defense and sixth-ranked unit against the pass entering Week 12. It was Gabbert's second career 300-yard passing game, and his first since a 303-yard outing against the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 28, 2012.
Gabbert was harsh on himself when assessing the final series of Sunday's divisional loss, but his teammates only had positive reviews of their signal-caller's performance.
"Blaine's playing awesome," wide receiver Torrey Smith said." Some of the plays he makes, I think he's able to showcase his skills and prove he belongs in this league.
"Blaine can play ball. I'm just glad that he's able to go out there and prove it. But we need to get some more wins to show for it and make some more plays for him."
Gabbert's attempts, completions, passing yards and completion percentage have all increased over his three starts for the 49ers. On Sunday, the 26-year-old passer completed 25-of-36 passes and finished the game with a 94.4 passer rating. Gabbert threw an interception in the first half, but he later connected with Smith on a 41-yard pass, plus posted a season-long completion on a cross-body throw to rookie tight end Blake Bell that went for a gain of 48.
On San Francisco's final offensive snap of the game, Gabbert recognized a single-high safety look from Arizona's defense and felt comfortable with Boldin's route against Tyrann Mathieu.
"It was close," Gabbert said. "I know when he made the break it was single-high and he had a good matchup inside and came up three-feet short. That's just the way it goes sometimes."
Boldin finished the game with a team-high eight catches for 93 yards. The performance came off the heels of a five-catch, 93-yard showing against the Seattle Seahawks.
From what Boldin has observed, Gabbert has earned the respect of the 49ers locker room in his three starts.
"He's a heck of a quarterback," Boldin said. "He has everybody fighting for him. He has everybody comfortable with him behind center. Guys are out there making plays for him."
Gabbert maintained that his week-to-week approach won't change for the remainder of the regular season. But that doesn't mean he's not beginning to settle into his new role as San Francisco's leading man on offense.
"Confidence is key in this profession," Gabbert said. "If you don't step on the field with a confident mindset, you're not going to play well. I try to put my best foot forward day in and day out throughout the week of practice so I can go out there and be confident in our team (and) myself, so we can go out there and win football games.