SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.

Arizona Cardinals' playoff hopes take big hit after loss to San Francisco 49ers

Bob McManaman
Arizona Republic

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Third-string quarterback C.J. Beathard passed for three touchdowns and backup running back Jeff Wilson Jr. became the first player to rush for 100 or more yards against Arizona this season as the 49ers held on for a 20-12 victory over the Cardinals on Saturday at State Farm Stadium.

Beathard completed 13 of 22 passes for 182 yards, including two scoring strikes to fullback Kyle Juszczyk and one to Wilson, who rushed for a career-high 183 yards.

The Cardinals were haunted by an offense that could never find a consistent rhythm, a strong of more pre-snap penalties, and a defense that allowed far too many chunk plays against a supposed inferior opponent.

As a result, they’ll have to wait at least another week to learn their playoff fate. A win over the 49ers on Saturday, coupled with a loss or tie by the Bears on Sunday against the Jaguars, would have assured the Cardinals of their first trip to the postseason in five seasons.

Now, the Cardinals (8-7) have to beat the Rams next week in the regular-season finale at SoFi Stadium and hope the Bears (7-7) lose or tie against the Jaguars and lose or tie next week at home against the Packers.

Arizona had a chance to tie the score after falling behind 14-6 when Kenyan Drake leaped over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown. On the two-point try, however, Kyler Murray rushed a pass to DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone that was too low and off target.

Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake (41) dives for a touchdown against the 49ers in the second half.

After the Cardinals failed to convert on fourth down for the first time in five tries, the 49ers took over on downs and Wilson promptly ripped off a 34-yard run before Beathard found Juszczyk on a 1-yard touchdown. Robbie Gould missed the extra point, but it didn’t matter in the end.

Murray drove the Cardinals down field with one more chance to tie it, but his pass in the end zone to Christian Kirk was intercepted by cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to virtually seal the win for the 49ers (6-9).

The Cardinals looked like they were off to the races to open the game, quickly driving down to the 49ers’ 9-yard line. Murray’s pass to Christian Kirk in the end zone was high and incomplete on third down, however, and Arizona had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Mike Nugent.

After each team went three-and-out, the 49ers responded with a 7-play, 74-yard drive highlighted by a big 24-yard catch and run by tight end George Kittle, back off injured reserve following a fractured foot. Five plays later, Beathard threw a short pass to Wilson, who cut to his right and ran through a handful of Cardinals defenders for a 21-yard touchdown.

Later, Arizona converted its second fourth-down situation but had another drive stalled when Murray’s pass in the end zone to Hopkins was broken up by cornerback Jason Verrett. Hopkins was injured on the play and Nugent came in for a 43-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 35 seconds left in the first half.

Haason Reddick forced a fumble by Beathard on the ensuing possession, but the Cardinals didn’t have enough time to get the ball into field-goal range for Nugent to try a third kick.

NFL COVID-19 UPDATES:Six Browns players will miss game vs. Jets

PLAYOFF PICTURE FOR WEEK 16:Bucs, Brady headed to postseason

WEEK 16 NFL PICKS:Rams, Seahawks vie for NFC West supremacy

A missed 41-yard attempt by 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, his first from inside 50 yards in 31 tries, gave the Cardinals some hope early in the second half. But Arizona’s offense had three straight plays for negative yardage and San Francisco had another 7-play 70-plus yard scoring drive, this one capped on a 9-yard pass from Beathard to fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

The 49ers were now ahead 14-6 and making matters worse, Cardinals tight end Dan Arnold lost a fumble on the team’s first play of the ensuing possession.

Turning point: After cutting the deficit to 14-12, the Cardinals’ defense was able to force a three-and-out, but the offense couldn’t deliver on its end during the decisive fourth quarter.

An incomplete pass, a false-start penalty on left tackle D.J. Humphries, and two completions for 12 yards resulted in a fourth and 2 from the Cardinals’ 35=yard line. Kingsbury went for it and the pass from Murray to Hopkins was incomplete. The 49ers scored two plays later.

Star player: Wilson was the difference maker on offense, but middle linebacker Fred Warner was the star on defense and his play – 14 tackles, a huge batted-down pass, and constant harassment – helped frustrate the Cardinals all afternoon.

He was also one of the reasons why the Cardinals had problems with the false starts.

Key injuries: Outside linebacker Haason Reddick, who was already nursing a sore shoulder, left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury but was able to return in the second quarter. Running back Chase Edmonds left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury and did not return. Late in the first half, Hopkins left for the locker room with chest or abdomen discomfort after heavy contact in the end zone on an incomplete pass. He returned early in the second half. Arnold left the game late in the third quarter and was examined for a concussion but was able to return.

Up next: The Cardinals close out the regular season on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams at Sofi Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:25 p.m. The Rams beat the Cardinals 38-28 back on Dec. 6 and have won the past seven meetings.