SAN FRANCISCO -- Everybody agreed Anquan Boldin had no logical business getting to the end zone, about 50 yards after he should have been tackled.
But players such as Boldin often are the difference between merely disappointing teams like the Arizona Cardinals and truly dismal teams such as the 49ers. Boldin's stumbling, staggering run through the 49ers' inept tackling was a fitting way to decide a 17-10 win over San Francisco.
Kurt Warner was 29-of-45 for 354 yards, and Boldin somehow turned one of his 11 catches for 156 yards into the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, who had eight receptions for 129 yards, ran wild in San Francisco's inexperienced secondary. But the Cardinals couldn't take control until Boldin turned a short catch on third-and-20 into a 54-yard, broken-field TD rumble, avoiding five tackles and eventually diving into the end zone with 10:45 to play.
Boldin reacted to his electric score with the proper humility for a star on a losing team. Arizona (4-8) won for the second time in three games, sweeping its season series with the lowly 49ers (2-10).
"I realized that it was third-and-20, and I tried to cut back across the field to give us a chance to get the first down," Boldin said. "I made (about) two guys miss, and it just opened up from there. ... Really the only time they did stop us was when we started stopping ourselves with the penalties and turnovers, but that is something that we have to work on."
Warner threw two interceptions, and the Cardinals managed just 65 yards rushing while failing to score in all three of their trips inside San Francisco's 20. Against any other opponent, it might have cost them.
"We made it hard on ourselves today, doing about everything we could to give it away," Warner said. "But we battled and did everything we needed to do to win, and Q (Boldin) made a tremendous play to spark us. We kept our own backs against the wall all day."
Keith Lewis blocked a punt and intercepted Warner's pass in the fourth quarter for the 49ers, who lost for the 10th time in 11 games since the season opener. The missed tackles and poor execution on Boldin's score were emblematic of an entire afternoon of growing pains for a club starting rookies and inexperienced free agents across its lineup.
"Everything we do right now, all of it is about the future," said coach Mike Nolan, who was touting his club's chances to win the NFC West just three weeks ago.
No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith was outstanding before halftime and dismal afterward in his third NFL start for the 49ers, remaining winless -- and without a touchdown pass -- in his pro career. He was 11-of-12 for 138 yards in the first half, but 5-of-12 with three interceptions after halftime, including Eric Green's pick with 1:42 to play.
"Age is not an excuse once you're out there, but we've got so many young guys at so many new positions," the 21-year-old quarterback said. "I was definitely comfortable out there, but there are still plenty of things about this pro game that I've got to get used to."
Maurice Hicks scored the only touchdown for the Niners, who play their next three games on the road -- where they've won one game in two years -- before a season-ending matchup with 1-11 Houston on New Year's Day.
The game didn't begin as ugly as it ended. Despite near-constant blitzing by both defenses to capitalize on Smith's inexperience and Warner's immobility, Smith completed his first eight passes, while Warner was 16-of-23 in the first half.
Smith's proficiency finally paid off in the closing minutes of the first half, when he hit Johnnie Morton for a pair of 24-yard gains before finding running back Frank Gore on a broken play for 31 yards, setting up Hicks' TD dive.
Lewis blocked a punt to set up Joe Nedney's 48-yard field goal, putting San Francisco up 10-9 entering the fourth quarter. Lewis then intercepted Warner's terrible pass with 11:36 left -- but Gore fumbled on the 49ers' next play, and Nolan blew two timeouts in a foolhardy attempt to challenge it.
After two incomplete passes and a holding penalty, Warner hit Boldin with a short pass over the middle -- and after he scored, Arizona made its 2-point conversion.
- Filling in for injured kicker Neil Rackers, Nick Novak kicked three field goals.
- Fitzgerald had his seventh 100-yard receiving game of the season, also surpassing 1,000 total yards.
- Smith's passer rating dropped from 114.6 at halftime to 50.2 -- still much better than his 17.5 entering the day.