In what was most probably Jim Harbaugh's last game as San Francisco's head coach, the Cardinals were unable to come away with a victory, despite a surprisingly decent performance from third-string turned starting QB Ryan Lindley. QB Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense proved too much for the injury-stricken Cardinals defense to handle.
The Cardinals started the game with the ball, and Lindley took little time to amaze. Within the first five minutes of the game, Lindley went 4-4 for 60 yards, and capped off the drive with his first official career TD. His 20 yard pass off a flea-flicker to a wide open to Michael Floyd put the team up 7-0 early.
However, the 49ers immediately answered. Within two minutes of the Cardinals score, Kaepernick threw a huge TD pass to former Cardinals' WR Anquan Boldin, who ran it in 76 yards to tie the game.
The second Cardinals' drive started well, with RB Kerwynn Williams running the ball well, and picking up multiple 1st downs. This drive would milk quite a lot of time off the clock, but unfortunately it ended with a punt after an incompletion by Lindley on 3rd and 17.
Kaepernick came back on the field for his 2nd drive, and started a push down the field. Tackling seemed to be a huge issue for the Cardinals, and it was disappointing to see, especially given how well they had wrapped up opponents in the first 12 games of the season. And with that, the 1st quarter ended.
The 49ers drive continued, and missed tackles would continue to hinder the team. A failed attempt to strip the ball by rookie CB Deone Buccannon provided the 49ers with just enough yards to set up a 53 yard FG for K Phil Dawson, who barely scraped it over the upright, giving San Francisco a 10-7 lead early in the 2nd quarter.
Lindley proceeded to come out and show some of the magic he had produced in his 1st drive of the day. A great 19 yard throw from Lindley to WR John Brown on 3rd and 19 saved the drive. However, the magic stopped here. Following a failed challenge from Harbaugh and an 8 yard sack, Lindley committed his first mistake of the day, throwing a poor interception to LB Michael Wilhoite, thus ruining any chance for a FG.
Again, missed tackles would plague the Cardinals. Kaepernick and the 49ers offense started the drive with a tipped incompletion, but Kaepernick followed this with a huge throw to WR Quinton Patton for 35 yards. After avoiding a sure sack, Dawson completed a 37 yard FG to put the 49ers up 13-7.
After a penalty on the kickoff, Lindley started the drive by scaring Cardinals fans everywhere, seemingly throwing another interception. Luckily for him, WR Larry Fitzgerald was alert, and managed to tackle the ball out of the defender's hands. Deciding to make up for this mistake, Lindley answered with two 1st downs to Floyd and TE Rob Housler. Williams continued to run well, and had a great 1st down run where his knee barely escaped touching the ground. After the two-minute warning, Head Coach Bruce Arians decided to try a trick play, but the pass attempt from RB Marion Grice proved futile. After an incompletion on 3rd down, the Cardinals brought out rookie K Chandler Catanzaro, who set the score at 13-10 with a 36 yard FG.
A holding penalty on the 49ers to start the drive was followed by a quick 3 and out, and the Cardinals got the ball back with 58 seconds left in the half.
It was now that Lindley decided to perform his second miracle drive of the game. The drive began with a big 21 yard completion to Fitzgerald, which pushed Fitz up to 23rd on the all-time receiving list. To add to the festivities, after a 13 yard pass to Brown, Lindley converted a big touchdown pass to Floyd to the right, who brought the ball in 45 yards. This capped a 75 yard, four play drive, and the Cardinals ended the half with a 17-13 lead.
The 49ers began with the ball. After initially appearing like another San Francisco push down the field was imminent, pressure on Kaepernick ended the drive in a punt.
Returnman Ted Ginn Jr., a former 49er, pleased everyone with a big return that was unfortunately negated by penalties. The Cardinals decided to focus on the run in this drive, with three straight rushing plays resulting in a 1st down. After another couple of 1st downs, Lindley committed his 2nd major error of the day, throwing another interception to CB Chris Culliver. This prompted Arians to ask Lindley, "where are you throwing it to?", reflecting the thoughts of everyone watching.
With the ball back, Kaepernick decided to take advantage of the Cardinals' tackling woes, and he proceeded to churn out a devastating series of plays. A 30 yard run by Kaepernick was followed by a 20 yard rush from RB Frank Gore (who notched his 8th career 1,000 yard season). With another run from Kaepernick, this time for 15 yards up the middle, he threw a TD pass to Boldin, which was fortunately brought back by a penalty. The Cardinals defense failed to capitalize on this mistake, however, and after a disastrous penalty from DT Tommy Kelly resulted in an automatic 1st down, Kaepernick threw a 3 yard TD pass to FB Bruce Miller, putting the game at 20-17.
The quarter came to an end with a failed screen pass, resulting in a loss of yards for Arizona's offense.
After an offensive pass interference call set the team at 2nd and 19, Lindley was able to convert the 1st down with a big throw to Floyd. After another failed deep pass attempt from Lindley, the offense was bailed out on 3rd down with a defensive pass interference call against Fitzgerald. However, P Drew Butler was forced to come back out after a couple of incompletions, and the 49ers had the ball again.
Despite Gore continuing his dominating game, a 15 yard sack by LB Sam Acho halted the drive, and the Cardinals were given the ball with 6:58. Down by only 3, a victory was definitely within reach.
Lindley started the drive with a great throw to Floyd for the 1st down. He again attempted a bomb pass to Floyd, which almost resulted in an interception. Luckily, Floyd was able to bat the ball away with his hand. The drive ended on a drop, and the Cardinals punted for no return.
Note: At this point in time, the St. Louis Rams had fumbled the ball on the Seahawks' 1 yard line, basically cementing a Seattle victory. My attention to the Cardinals game proceeded to drop drastically, as it was almost guaranteed that they would be playing the Carolina Panthers in the 1st round of the Playoffs.
Big runs by Gore kept fueling the 49ers offense, and the defense seemed to have given up. A 24 yard run by Gore got the 49ers to midfield, and after a 2nd timeout from San Francisco, the drive ended in a punt. The two-minute warning came up with the Cardinals at their own 20, and down by a FG.
Lindley came out, threw his 3rd interception, and the 49ers kneeled the ball. On to Carolina.