Officially, the NFL is tackle football.
Unofficially, it feels more like flag football so far in 2014.
In the process of Sunday’s defeat, the 49ers made plenty of mistakes on their own. In fact, the 49ers continued their tale of two halves, jumping out to a 14-6 halftime lead but then getting outscored over the final two quarters 17-0. They’ve now been outscored 52-3 in the second half of their three games this season after outscoring opponents 59-16 in the first two quarters.
But it also seemed as if the officials were throwing more often than Colin Kaepernick.
A couple of questionable roughing calls aided Arizona’s go-ahead touchdown drive just a week after a long TD run by Frank Gore vs. the Bears was negated by a questionable flag.
Already this year San Francisco has been assessed nearly 300 yards in penalties, including nine for 107 yards Sunday in the loss to the Cardinals, who now are 3-0 and atop the NFC West.
The penalties certainly have been a huge factor in the consecutive defeats. Yet disciplined, veteran teams often overcome those obstacles.
So far, this one has not.
As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted late in Sunday’s game, “Taunting, head-butts, personal fouls. #49ers not acting like veteran team that’s gone to three straight NFC title games.”
The 49ers came out early Sunday, using four- and five-receiver sets and favoring the passing attack over the running game. Touchdowns by Michael Crabtree and Carlos Hyde had the 49ers up 14-6 in the second quarter as Kaepernick was 14-of-18 for 116 yards, while also rushing for 45.
San Francisco was following the early script suggested by head coach Jim Harbaugh earlier in the week when he said they were “in the business of winning your next game. Very much want to be about that. That’s the situation we’re in.”
But in the second half, the 49ers couldn’t sustain drives or keep the Cardinals from completing theirs. Once again the San Francisco secondary couldn’t shut down opposing receivers in the second half. Last week it was Brandon Marshall of the Bears. This week it was rookie John Brown.
Two TD passes from backup QB Drew Stanton (playing for the injured Carson Palmer) to Brown gave the Cardinals all they needed for the win, but Arizona also tacked on a late field goal for the final margin.
The 49ers now need to rebound this coming Sunday with a victory over the Eagles at Levi’s Stadium, or all the high hopes for 2014 will be quickly dashed. A loss to Philadelphia, putting the Niners at 1-3, would be devastating.
But right now, all the momentum seems to be flowing against the 49ers, not with them. And all the mistakes are cause for fans to see a giant, red warning flag -- as well as all those penalty flags.