GLENDALE, Ariz. — The San Francisco 49ers finally mustered up a pass rush, doubling their season sack total in one game while putting constant pressure on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer.
But the 49ers still can’t score touchdowns, still can’t stop teams when they need it most and still can’t find a way to win a game.
Unable to close out a game for the third straight week, the 49ers remained winless after allowing Palmer to pick his way down the field and find Larry Fitzgerald on an 19-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals an ugly, 18-15 victory on Sunday.
“We had opportunities there to win the game on both sides of the ball a number of times throughout the game and we didn’t get it done,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was disappointing.”
The 49ers had been concerned about their pass rush after mustering three sacks — all against Seattle — through the first three games.
San Francisco took advantage of Arizona’s injury-depleted line, sacking Palmer six times while spending most of the afternoon in his face. Their pressure also led to an interception by Palmer in the end zone on Arizona’s opening drive.
The offense, though not exactly humming, did cross the Arizona 35-yard line five times to put the 49ers in position for touchdowns.
That was the good news. There’s always the other side.
The defense faltered when it needed to stiffen the most, allowing the Cardinals (2-2) to move 75 yards in seven plays to score the winning touchdown — right after Robbie Gould put the 49ers (0-4) ahead on his fifth field goal.
Palmer completed 6 of 7 passes and accounted for all the yards on the drive, capping it by squeezing a pass between two defenders to Fitzgerald for the game-winning score. San Francisco had held the Cardinals to four field goals by Phil Dawson until that drive.
“We had a sack on that drive, which gave us a chance to knock them out of field goal range,” Shanahan said. “I would love to get it every time, but they got the job done there on the last drive.”
San Francisco’s offense had a breakout game last week against the Los Angeles Rams, racking up 39 points after failing to score a touchdown in the opening two games.
The 49ers moved the ball against the Cardinals, just not across the goal line.
Unable to capitalize once it crossed midfield, San Francisco failed to score a touchdown for the third time in four games this season, getting all of its points on Gould’s five field goals.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer had something to do with it, throwing an interception while badly missing several targets. He finished 24 for 49 for 234 yards and was sacked three times.
The receivers didn’t help, dropping multiple passes, nor did 13 penalties for 113 yards.
“We all have to do better. I have to throw better. We have to execute the plays better,” Hoyer said. “It is just so frustrating because we were so close. It is one thing if you get blown out, you say we never had a chance to win. In the last three weeks, in particular, I don’t feel that way.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the 49ers.
Arizona was the first stop in a stretch of three straight road games, with Indianapolis next and Washington on Oct. 15. A home game against Dallas follows that, then a road game against Philadelphia before a rematch against the Cardinals in San Francisco on Nov. 5.
“We have to get better,” Shanahan said. “If I thought we were lacking effort in anything, it would be different. Our guys fought hard, they wanted to win as much as anyone. But working hard isn’t going to guarantee you anything.”