Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell brings down 49ers running back Shaun Draughn late in the 19-13 victory.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – One unheralded backup quarterback ago, the Steelers' Landry Jones got the best of the Cardinals.
Blaine Gabbert had his moments for the 49ers on Sunday, but the defense wasn't going to allow a redux.
Safety Tony Jefferson's sack on third down was the decisive blow as San Francisco's final drive ended short of the end zone in the Cardinals' 19-13 victory at Levi's Stadium. Gabbert finished the game 25-of-36 for 318 yards and a touchdown, but unlike when Jones led a second-half rally in Pittsburgh, the Cardinals clamped down late.
"We're continuing to mature," safety Deone Bucannon said. "When these situations arise, we're not making the same mistakes. We're continuing to progress as a team and as a unit. We're able to do what we need to do in those situations."
The 49ers had a crucial third-and-10 from the Cardinals' 30 with 1:27 remaining when Jefferson came on the blitz. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher has been unafraid of sending pressure late in games, but sending his third-year safety may have caught the 49ers off guard.
"I'd been playing man on the tight end all day, so it was a nice little switch-up," Jefferson said.
Gabbert completed a pass on fourth-and-20, but Anquan Boldin was tackled two yards short of the first-down marker.
Jefferson was the star late but it was safety Tyrann Mathieu who did most of the damage early. Mathieu picked off Gabbert in the first quarter and had several highlight hits. Mathieu finished with 13 tackles, a tackle for loss and two passes defended in addition to the pick.
Different players stepping up each week has been a staple defensively.
"When things aren't going right, guys look each other in the eye and we look for who is going to make the play," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Everybody in the defensive huddle is capable of making the play, and we lean on each other to make those plays when we need them."
OFFICIALS DRAW IRE OF BOTH TEAMS
Neither side left the game happy with the officiating crew.
The Cardinals' biggest contention came in the first half when the 49ers were called for too many men on the field. Instead of waiving off a two-yard run by Stepfan Taylor, the crew counted the play and then marked off five yards. After a run for no gain by Chris Johnson, there was mass confusion and a lengthy huddle about which down it should be.
Arians said the officials "struggled mightily" and was convinced it should have been second-and-5 but the officials ruled it third-and-3.
"They've got 13 guys on the field," Arians said. "We accept the penalty. That's first-and-5. They gave us five yards after the play, which was wrong, which made it second-and-3. That's not what we accepted. That was the whole problem. That was FUBAR on their part. They can try to explain it. They're wrong."
Two controversial calls went against the 49ers on the Cardinals' final touchdown drive. Torrey Smith was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when an official ran into him on the sideline and Quinton Dial was penalized for roughing the passer when his helmet connected with Carson Palmer's on a sack.
The Cardinals would have had a first down anyway if Smith's penalty wasn't called, but the penalty on Dial changed the complexion of the game.
"When I watched the replay, I saw he just kind of ducked into it and there was obviously nothing I could do at that point," Dial said.
Palmer thought it was the right call.
"There's no debate here," he said. "He hit me right in the face with the crown of his helmet."
The most vocal opponent of the officiating was 49ers guard Alex Boone, who was upset about the call on Smith but didn't think that was the only mistake.
"They had terrible calls all game," Boone told the San Jose Mercury News. "I don't care what the league says. I don't care what Roger (Goodell) says. It's the truth. You don't like it, get the hell out of here."
WEATHERSPOON SPLITS TIME WITH BUCANNON
Bucannon played after dealing with concussion symptoms during the week but it wasn't his customary full-time role. Sean Weatherspoon spelled him in the base defense.
"I respect that they wanted to keep me safe," said Bucannon, who had five tackles. "They're easing me back into this whole situation."
It was the most extensive action of the season for Weatherspoon, who was projected to start when he signed with the team as a free agent in March but has played sparingly as a reserve. He had two tackles.
"It was fun to go out there in the base package and get to have a little fun," Weatherspoon said. "It felt great."
POWERS INJURED IN THIRD QUARTER
Cornerback Jerraud Powers left the game in the third quarter and was replaced by Justin Bethel. He was carted to the locker room, but Arians hopes the injury isn't serious.
"Hopefully it's just a calf strain, not an Achilles," Arians said.