SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- An apparently playful argument between San Francisco 49ers cornerback Josh Norman and Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury in the second quarter of Sunday's meeting quickly devolved into a costly Niners penalty and Norman's benching.
The 10-yard taunting penalty against Norman gave Arizona a first down on a drive that ended with a field goal that the Cardinals up by 17 with 4:02 left in the second quarter. The Cardinals would go on to win 31-17.
Norman did not return to the game after the costly infraction, with veteran Dre Kirkpatrick replacing him at outside cornerback.
"I wanted him to get out right there," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I wanted him to cool down a little bit. And then in the third quarter, we just kept Dre in, which wasn't my decision but I was OK with it."
The exchange actually started with what appeared to be a harmless back-and-forth between Norman and Kingsbury.
In a first half in which defensive stops were hard to come by, the 49ers finally appeared poised to get off the field with 6:47 left in the first half.
On third-and-18 at the 49ers' 19-yard line, the Niners stopped receiver Rondale Moore for a 2-yard loss, but before the play ended, Kingsbury jumped on the field to yell at the officials.
Kingsbury earned a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which would have moved the ball back to San Francisco's 36 and set up a 54-yard field goal or a punt. Instead, Norman entered the fray, exchanging words with Kingsbury near Arizona's sideline.
"I like Josh, I know Josh," Kingsbury said. "I think it was just more friendly banter that got misinterpreted. But I shouldn't have been out there doing that. ... I think he was just telling me that wasn't a very smart thing to say to the official to get the original penalty. But I'm telling you it wasn't anything malicious."
As Kingsbury and Norman yelled at each other, Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries stepped in and appeared to lightly headbutt Norman, setting off a chain of events that would lead to the 10-yard taunting penalty.
Instead of offsetting flags, league rules stipulate that the foul on the field, in this case Norman's, is assessed first, thus giving Arizona a first down but moving the ball half the distance to the goal. Then, after that, the foul on Kingsbury is enforced, 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 that there was a flag for something that they did. I didn't even realize Josh was getting into it with their 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 keep Arizona from scoring a touchdown, but the Cardinals booted a 26-yard field goal four plays later in a game they never trailed.
Norman, who was not made available to speak to media after the game, is tied for second among cornerbacks in the league with five enforced penalties in his six games on the season.
While the penalty was far from the lone reason the 49ers lost, 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," Shanahan said. "I don't care what happens, whether the refs are right or wrong, you can't give them the chance to be wrong. It doesn't matter to me whether you deserved it or you didn't, it's that you got it and it's very easy to avoid those. You get the hell away."