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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers find themselves in a familiar position having lost two straight games to fall to 1-2 after three games for the second straight season.
It's the way they got to this point that is so frustrating to the team.
For the second straight week, the Niners blew a second-half lead and gave a game away in losing 23-14 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. After being done in by turnovers in a Week 2 loss to Chicago, it was penalties that did San Francisco in this week.
It leaves the Niners looking up in the standings as they already trail Arizona by two games and Seattle by one in the tough NFC West heading into Sunday's home game against undefeated Philadelphia.
"We need to get it fixed Sunday at 1 o'clock," coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. "That's the challenge for our ballclub. We've been in this position before where there is an ebb and a flow to the season. We're in it now. That's the great challenge for our football team and I have great confidence that we'll attack it."
The Niners responded to the slow start last year by winning their next five games as they made it all the way to the NFC title game for the third straight year.
If they are going to have a similar turnaround this year they will need to clean up their play. The Niners were called for nine penalties for 107 yards on Sunday and have a league-worst 36 penalties overall through three games.
The penalty barrage by the 49ers started midway through the third quarter when linebacker Dan Skuta was called for unnecessary roughness for hitting sliding quarterback Drew Stanton one play before Patrick Willis was called for a disputed roughing the passer penalty.
Those 30 free yards set up Stanton's second touchdown pass of the quarter to rookie John Brown, giving the Cardinals a 20-14 lead they never squandered.
The Niners were in position to regain the lead on their next drive with a first-and-goal at the 6. But Anquan Boldin head-butted a Cardinals defender, backing San Francisco up to the 21.
A clipping call on Jonathan Martin moved the Niners back 15 more yards and the drive ended with no points when Tommy Kelly blocked Phil Dawson's 45-yard field goal attempt.
Willis and Chris Culliver got called for personal fouls on Arizona's next drive and a pass interference by Chris Cook on third down late in the game helped set up the game-sealing score.
"We never point any finger of blame or make excuses in terms of the officiating," Harbaugh said. "Sometimes the football gods can be unforgiving. I say 'gods' with a small 'g.' We'll work to fix it and I'm confident we'll do that."
San Francisco has been outscored 52-3 in the second half this season and 31-0 in the fourth quarter.
The frustration boiled over into the postgame locker room where Boldin did criticize the officials and running back Frank Gore was too upset to finish an interview.
"There's definitely frustration and not feeling good after a loss," Harbaugh said. "But the mindset has to be, going forward, to fix. You push against something until it's upright. That's a process that our team uses. I have total belief in everybody associated with our program — coaches, players, everybody involved."
Gore's anger might have had to do with his lack of use. He had just six carries for 10 yards the entire game as the Niners used more four- and five-receiver sets to make up for injuries to tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald. The six carries matched the fewest Gore has had in three-plus seasons with Harbaugh as his coach.
The Niners ran the ball just seven times in the second half against the Cardinals despite either leading or being within one score for all but the final 29 seconds of the half.
NOTES: DE Ray McDonald left the game with a dislocated finger. ... Harbaugh said he is optimistic Davis will be able to play this week after sitting out with an ankle injury. Davis has missed two games the past seven seasons, both 49ers losses.
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