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49ers defense livid with own performance after being torched by Kyler Murray, Cardinals late

© Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

That was not championship-caliber defense. Take it from a three-time All-Pro corner and Super Bowl champion, not me.

“That’s not championship football,” said Richard Sherman, following Thursday’s 28-25 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

I can (and will) sit here and describe for you the desolation of the 49ers’ second half (and opening drive) defense on Thursday Night Football, but Sherman can provide an eviscerating assessment a bit better. It’s exactly what he and DeForest Buckner did after the win, which, despite making the 49ers 8-0, was panned by the pair of defensive lynchpins.

The picture above is everything that Sherman despises. A lack of execution. A missed tackle turned touchdown. And it was the still less egregious of the two instances in which a poor Sherman tackle attempt immediately manifested in a Cardinals touchdown.

But it’s one of those failures that Sherman likes to use to spark the seemingly eternal fire in his belly. He might even hang it up like a motivational poster to remind himself of how far from perfection he and the 49ers were on Thursday night.

That’s what the 49ers defense says it strives for, repeatedly. Every member of that defense talks about a pursuit of perfection in earnest. They know it’s like the Sisyphus myth—they’ll never push that boulder to the top, but they’ll never stop pushing to try and get there. Maybe one day they’ll get close.

Thursday was not such a day:

This second example clearly irked Sherman much more. With roughly five minutes remaining and an 11-point lead, the 49ers needed to, at the very least, force the Cardinals to take a few minutes off the clock.

Instead, they allowed an 88-yard touchdown pass to Andy Isabella on the second play of the drive.

Emmanuel Moseley tried to undercut the route. He failed. Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward found themselves on skates, sliding simultaneously toward the sideline, both missing a chance to cut the play down before the end zone. Ward failed a second time inside the 10-yard line.

That defense, rightfully praised for its hoarding of elite defensive statistics, was hit with a haymaker by the Cardinals. They allowed 153 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 attempts (6.7 yards per carry) and 241 passing yards and 2 touchdowns to Kyler Murray.

They failed to force a turnover for the first time this season. That both belies the seasonal improvement and single-game disappointment for a defense which has, maybe more than anything, focused on turning the ball over following last season’s record-breaking turnover desert.

To be fair, Murray is a handful and head coach Kliff Kingsbury has some neat play designs within his Air Raid offense…


“They didn’t do anything that was really difficult,” Sherman said. “Quarterback ran from time to time. We missed plays, we missed tackles, we blew assignments, we turned back when we should have spilled. Mistakes you can’t make. Missed tackles on however long that run was. I missed a tackle, E-Man, the safeties, we all [did]. Somebody’s got to get him down and you can’t win like that. That’s not winning football… This is the epitome of a lot to work on. We made simple mistakes.”

Neither Sherman nor DeForest Buckner seem overly impressed with the Cardinals. Buckner even referred to Murray as a “little squirrel back there.” Asked if he meant that in a positive light, he said, “take it how you will.”

But what about the short week? Surely that was a factor in the defensive outlier.

“You can’t use a short week as an excuse,” said Buckner. “They got just as much time to prepare for us, so I can’t use that as an excuse. Guys just gotta really just hone in in on the details and little things like that and we got to be better prepared next time we play, because we play them in two weeks.”

Sherman, while commending a near-perfect Jimmy Garoppolo and effective 49ers offense, took special aim at his own mistakes.

“It’s frustrating when it’s you,” Sherman said. “I can’t be frustrated at anybody but myself. I made the mistake. I took a bad angle on the tackle with 89. And I gotta be able to get him down. I had a shot to get him down and I didn’t.”

Despite the 8-0 standing, the idea for Sherman is the process; how you get to where you’re going. The 49ers got to 8-0 on Thursday thanks to tremendous offense, outweighing woeful defense. That’s not how Sherman intends to reach another Super Bowl.

It’s why the theme of humility popped up for both Sherman and Buckner.

“It’s humbling for the defense, we need to be humble,” Sherman said. “That was a humbling game. You need to be humbled on all levels and I think there’s accountability on all levels, and we’ll watch the tape and we’ll watch it critically and everybody will watch it and judge themselves critically I’m sure, because we [can’t] play like that. That’s not championship football.”


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