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What We Learned from 49ers vs. Cardinals

View select images from from the 49ers Week 12 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.

You can throw the records out when NFC West teams compete in the regular season.

Such was the case on Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's® Stadium. Although the Cardinals entered Week 12 with a five-game divisional lead over the 49ers, the home team battled throughout the 60-minute contest to push the visitors to their limit.

In the end, a few controversial penalties extended an Arizona 14-play, 85-yard drive capped by a Carson Palmer 7-yard run for the game-winning touchdown. 

The 49ers fell to 3-3 at home this season with a 20-13 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.

Following Palmer's score, San Francisco had a chance to drive the length of the field on a two-minute drill, but the comeback bid fell short when Blaine Gabbert hit Anquan Boldin for 18 yards on a 4th-and-20 near midfield.

With the loss, the 49ers had their six-game home winning streak over Arizona snapped.

Here's what we learned from the NFC West clash.

Tight Ends Step up on Sunday

Trailing 13-3 midway through the third quarter, Blake Bell caught a cross-body throw from Gabbert and ran down the left sideline for a 48-yard gain. The rookie pass-catcher entered the game for Garrett Celek, who suffered a left ankle injury in the first half and did not return to action. Bell's fourth career catch was San Francisco's longest play from scrimmage and set up the offense with a 1st and 10 from Arizona's 29-yard line.

Blaine Gabbert later punctuated the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Celek, who has scored his only two career touchdowns in back-to-back games. McDonald celebrated with an emphatic spike in the back right corner of the end zone, too.

San Francisco's 6-play, 77-yard scoring drive was an excellent response to Arizona's first touchdown of the game.

Gabbert, who has thrown all four of his touchdowns this season to tight ends, connected with Bell and McDonald throughout the game. The tight ends combined to catch nine of Gabbert's 25 completions on the day.

49ers Kicker Stays Hot

Phil Dawson kept his consecutive streak of made field goals alive with a 53-yard field goal to get San Francisco on the board, and later with a 33-yard field goal to tie the game at 13.

Dawson has now made 18 in a row since his first attempt of the season was blocked in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.

In order to set up Dawson's first make of the day, the 49ers converted a 4th-and-2 with a 3-yard Gabbert pass to Draughn to set up Dawson's long kick. The aggressive play call paid off. San Francisco was able to make it a 6-3 game going into the half.

In the third quarter, Gabbert connected on a 41-yard pass to Torrey Smith to get San Francisco deep into Arizona territory.

The drive stalled, however, which led to Dawson's second make of the day and 10 answered points for the 49ers.

Early Special Teams Miscue Leads to AZ Points

Week 12 got off to a bad note for the 49ers. Bruce Ellington muffed Arizona's first punt midway through the first quarter. The 47-yard punt was recovered at San Francisco's 39-yard line by Cardinals linebacker Alani Fua.

San Francisco's defense prevented a touchdown when Jimmie Ward broke up a third-down pass from Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald in the back left corner of the end zone. As a result, Arizona took an early 3-0 lead on a 26-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal.

Defense Responds against AZ's Top Reciever

On the early third-down throw in the red zone, Ward was in a trail position on Palmer's pass, but the second-year defensive back showed excellent awareness to reach in and disrupt Fitzgerald's vision of the ball.

Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 134 yards with two touchdowns in Arizona's Week 3 win over San Francisco. On Sunday, Fitzgerald was held to 10 catches for 66 yards. John Brown led the Cardinals with four catches for 88 yards, with 48 of them coming off a third-quarter pass from Palmer.

'Honey Badger' Interception Keeps TD-less Streak Alive 

Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Blaine Gabbert in the first quarter ensuring that San Francisco has still not scored a first-quarter touchdown all season. The Cardinals safety has three interceptions in two games against the 49ers this season.

Following San Francisco's turnover, Tramaine Brock was unable to intercept an errant Palmer throw in the end zone. The missed opportunity led to a 41-yard Catanzaro field goal and a 6-0 lead.

The 49ers defense did well to hold the Cardinals to a pair of field goals after a pair of self-inflicted mistakes.

Golden Nuggets 

  • Eli Harold started at outside linebacker for Ahmad Brooks (concussion).
  • Quinton Dial took Glenn Dorsey's spot at defensive tackle. Mike Purcell made his first career start at right defensive tackle, the spot manned by Dial for the first 10 games of the year.
  • First-round pick Arik Armstead, Tony Jerod-Eddie and cornerback Dontae Johnson entered the game in San Francisco's dime personnel.
  • Celek injured his left ankle on a Shaun Draughn first-down run in the opening quarter. Celek was carted off to the 49ers locker room and was listed as questionable to return.
  • Eric Reid broke up a Palmer 4th-and-2 pass intended for John Brown down the right hash marks.
  • NaVorro Bowman led the 49ers with eight tackles.
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