SANTA CLARA, Calif .– A seemingly playful argument between San Francisco 49ers cornerback Josh Norman and Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury in the second quarter of Sunday’s meeting quickly resulted in a costly Niners penalty and Norman’s bench press.
The mocking 10-yard penalty against Norman gave Arizona a first down on a drive that ended with a field goal, which the Cardinals improved by 17 in the second quarter, 4:02 minutes ahead. The Cardinals would still win 31-17.
Norman did not return to the game after the costly violation, as veteran Dre Kirkpatrick replaced him as outside cornerback.
“I wanted him to come out right away,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “I wanted it to cool down a bit. And then we just kept Dre in in the third quarter, which wasn’t my decision, but I was okay with that.”
The exchange actually began with a seemingly harmless back and forth between Norman and Kingsbury.
In a first half where defensive stops were hard to come by, the 49ers finally seemed ready to leave the field with 6:47 to go in the first half.
On the third and 18 at the 49ers’ 19-yard line, the Niners receiver Rondale Moore stopped for a 2-yard loss, but before the game ended Kingsbury jumped onto the field to yell at the officials.
Kingsbury received a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct that would have moved the ball back to San Francisco’s 36 and set up a 54 yard field goal or punt. Instead, Norman stepped into the fight and exchanged words with Kingsbury near Arizona’s sideline.
“I like Josh, I know Josh,” said Kingsbury. “I think it was just a friendlier banter that was misinterpreted. But I shouldn’t have done the original sentence. But I’m telling you, it wasn’t anything malicious.”
As Kingsbury and Norman yelled at each other, Cardinal’s offensive tackle DJ Humphries stepped in and appeared to easily headbutt Norman, starting a chain of events that would result in a 10-yard mockery penalty.
Instead of flagging, the league rules provide that the on-field foul, in this case Norman’s, is scored first, giving Arizona a first down but moving the ball halfway from the goal. Then the foul was enforced on Kingsbury, who moved it 15 yards back, but gave Arizona a first-and-24 at San Francisco’s 25.
“I don’t even know what happened,” said 49ers linebacker Fred Warner. “I saw that there was a flag for something they did. I didn’t even know Josh was getting involved with their players. It’s a huge penalty. I didn’t know it would lead to an automatic first down . “
The Niners still managed to keep Arizona from scoring a touchdown, but the Cardinals started a 26-yard field goal four games later in a game they never left behind.
Norman, who was not available for media talks after the game, is second among the cornerbacks in the league with five penalties in his six season games.
While the penalty kick wasn’t the only reason the 49ers lost by far, it was a costly mistake in a game full of them as they dropped to 3-5 overall and 0-3 in the NFC West Division.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Shanahan. “I don’t care what happens, if the referees are right or wrong, you can’t give them a chance to be wrong. To me it doesn’t matter if you deserve it or not, it’s what you have it and it is very easy to avoid this.