SANTA CLARA, California – A seemingly funny argument between San Francisco 49ers cornerback Josh Norman and Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury in the second quarter of Sunday’s game quickly turned into a costly penalty for the Los Angeles Cardinals. Niners and the Norman bench.
The mocking 10-yard penalty against Norman gave Arizona a first down in a series that ended with a field goal leading the Cardinals by 17 with 4:02 left in the second quarter. The Cardinals would win 31-17.
Norman did not return to the game after the costly infraction, with veteran Dre Kirkpatrick replacing him at outside corner.
“I wanted him to go out there,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I wanted him to cool down a bit. And then in the third quarter, we kept Dre in, which wasn’t my decision, but he was okay.”
The exchange actually started with what appeared to be a harmless exchange between Norman and Kingsbury.
In a first half in which defensive stops were hard to come by, the 49ers finally looked ready to go off the field with 6:47 left in the first half.
At third and 18 at the 49ers’ 19-yard line, the Niners stopped wide receiver Rondale Moore for a 2-yard loss, but before the play ended, Kingsbury jumped onto the field to yell at the umpires.
Kingsbury earned himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which would have moved the ball back to the San Francisco 36 line and established a 54-yard field goal or punt. Instead, Norman entered the fray, exchanging words with Kingsbury near the Arizona sideline.
“I like Josh, I know him,” Kingsbury said. “I think it was just friendlier jokes that got misinterpreted. But I shouldn’t have been out there doing that … I think he was just telling me that it wasn’t a very smart thing to tell the officer the original grief. But I’m telling you that. it was not malicious at all. “
As Kingsbury and Norman yelled at each other, Cardinals offensive tackle DJ Humphries stepped in and appeared to head Norman lightly, setting off a chain of events that would lead to the 10-yard taunt penalty.
Rather than offset flags, league rules stipulate that the foul on the field, in this case by Norman, is evaluated first, giving Arizona a first down but moving the ball half the distance of the goal. Then after that, the foul is enforced on Kingsbury, moving it back 15 yards but giving Arizona a first and 24 at San Francisco’s 25.
“I don’t even know what happened,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “I saw there was a flag for something they did. I didn’t even realize that Josh was messing with his players. That’s a big penalty. I didn’t realize it was going to result in an automatic first down.”
The Niners still managed to prevent Arizona from scoring a touchdown, but the Cardinals kicked a 26-yard field goal four plays later in a game they never lost.
Norman, who was not available to speak to the media after the game, is tied for second among league cornerbacks with five forced penalties in his six games this season.
While the penalty was far from the only reason the 49ers lost, it was a costly mistake in a game full of them, as they fell to 3-5 overall and 0-3 in the NFC West division.
“It’s very disappointing,” Shanahan said. “I don’t care what happens, if the referees are right or not, you can’t give them a chance to be wrong. I don’t care if you deserved it or not, you have and it’s very easy to avoid them. Go to hell.”