Five things we learned about the 49ers during their resounding 30-22 victory over the Green Bay…
49ers vs. Cards: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: Any doubt who the best team is in the NFC West? Not after Monday night, as the defending champion 49ers take a two-game lead in the division into their midseason bye week. At 6-2, the Niners already are putting some separation between them and the 4-4 Cardinals and 4-4 Seahawks, each of whom San Francisco already has beaten.
Thumbs up: That was yet another throttling by the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense, which was downright mean while putting the hurt on the Cardinals throughout the game, making their receivers shiver like willow trees when they ran routes across the middle. Even with the Cardinals passing 52 times, the Niners allowed only 265 total yards and held an opponent without a touchdown for the fourth time in five games. Arizona finished with a paltry seven rushing yards, the fewest allowed in a game by any NFL team this season and tying the franchise record for fewest allowed in any game.
Thumbs up: Give it up for Alex Smith, who jettisoned himself out of a two-game slump with a magnificent performance. Smith had the best first half of his career – completing 14 of 15 passes for 146 yards and two TDs in The Opening two quarters – and by the time he was done, the eighth-year veteran had set a single-game NFL record with a 94.7 completion percentage with a minimum 15 attempts. Smith finished 18 of 19 for 232 yards and three TDs with a QB rating of 157.1, looking again like the playmaker he was earlier in the season.
Thumbs up: Hello, Michael Crabtree, go-to red zone target. With Patrick Peterson absolutely draped around him, Crabtree went up in the air on a straight-rope fade pass from Smith and snagged the ball away from Peterson for a touchdown on a third-and-goal play from the 3-yard line. With the Niners facing another third-and-goal late in second quarter, Crabtree did a nice little inside cutback move in the flat, leaving Peterson sprawling on the ground after a missed tackle attempt as Crabs accelerated into the end zone to complete a nine-yard scoring play that gave the Niners a 17-0 halftime lead. Crabtree led the 49ers with five receptions for 72 yards and recorded the second two-TD game of his career.
Thumbs up: Speaking of nifty receivers… How about that two-step move Randy Moss put on the overmatched Arizona defense? Taking a short pass in the flat, Moss juked one defender off his feet near the sideline, danced past another as he side-stepped back toward the inside, then burst toward the end zone to complete a dazzling 47-yard touchdown reception that put the Niners up 24-0 late in the third quarter – Moss' first touchdown since scoring San Francisco's first TD of the season in Week 1 at Green Bay. That gave Moss 18 career touchdowns in 19 Monday night games and moved him into a tie with Terrell Owens for fourth place among the NFL's all-time touchdown leaders with 156.
Thumbs down: Getting flagged 15 yards for grabbing a face mask, which set back and ultimately thwarted San Francisco's promising first drive, and then whiffing on his block assignment on a cutback run on the Niners' second drive was not a good start to the night for right guard Alex Boone.
Thumbs up: When the Cards tried to add some spark to their offense by using cornerback Patrick Peterson as a receiver – just Peterson's fourth offensive snap of the season – San Francisco's voracious defense said simply, "Nothing doing," as Peterson took a little swing pass and was swarmed for a two-yard loss with Ahmad Brooks leading the charge.
Thumbs up: Larry Fitzgerald didn't exactly alligator-arm a third-down pass from John Skelton late in the first quarter, but he obviously heard the footsteps of Dashon Goldson barreling down upon him when he dropped a pass right in his hands that would have went for a first down. Fitzgerald was barely hit on the play, but he tumbled head-first into the turf and had to be helped off the field to the sideline, where he was checked for concussion-like symptoms.
Thumbs up: At least Fitzgerald saw Goldson coming. Early Doucet never did, and Goldson completely leveled Doucet with a hit for the ages when Doucet dared to come across the middle early in the fourth quarter. Goldson's punishing, lights-out hit had Doucet on the ground for minutes afterwards with other Cardinals and team personnel circled around him. It was crushing contact of the highest order.
Thumbs up: While Goldson's master-blaster was unrivaled as the game's biggest hit, his partner at safety, Donte Whitner, was blowing up Cardinals all over the field throughout the night, too, recording several popping hits while making big contact in the open field as he sailed up from the secondary. Whitner led the 49ers with seven tackles, and you can be sure all of them were felt by the Cardinals.
Thumbs up: Ray McDonald absolutely embarrassed the offensive linemen in front of him most of the evening, especially when he blew into the Arizona backfield to dump running back LaRod Stephens-Howling for a 5-yard loss early in the second quarter. That was one of two stops behind the line for McDonald, and he and Justin Smith were brutes up front all night long.
Thumbs up: Ted Ginn Jr. definitely has the giddy-up back in his step on kick returns as he showed nice burst and quick change of direction to provide the kind of threat he gave the 49ers last season. Ginn returned a kickoff 31 yards and had a scintillating 35-yard return of a punt during which he made defenders miss and maneuvered his way through traffic in the open field. Ginn averaged 11.8 yards on his five punt returns.
Thumbs up: Every now and then, Delanie Walker makes some wondrous catches that just wow you. He showed great concentration to catch a pass that was tipped in front of him, then managed to keep both feet in bounds while falling backward to make good a 15-yard completion that sent the 49ers into Arizona territory on their second touchdown drive. Walker also got deep to pull in a leaping 23-yard reception that gave the Niners a first-and-goal at the Arizona 7-yard line and set up San Francisco's first touchdown.
Thumbs up: Nice seeing Clark Haggans get in the mix for a tackle against his old teammates. Haggans is starting to contribute now that he's getting more snaps as the third outside linebacker behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.
Thumbs down: Not that it mattered much, but the Niners got a little sloppy on defense in the fourth quarter when Smith and Brooks each were flagged for jumping offside on consecutive plays with Arizona pinned back deep in its own territory. Both players were anxiously looking to get a jump on their pass rush but need to show better disciplined as their penalties helped the Cardinals get out of a hole. Brooks was later flagged again for the same infraction.
Thumbs up: The 49ers don't send NaVorro Bowman on blitzes very often, but when they do, their All-Pro middle linebacker knows how to get to the quarterback. Bowman pummeled Arizona QB John Skelton for a 9-yard loss on first down that pushed the Cards back on their final drive of the first half. It was Bowman's second sack of the season, matching his career total entering the year.
Thumbs up: Speaking of getting to the quarterback… The Cardinals really had no answer for Aldon Smith, who put the heat on Skelton throughout the night and finally got to him for sacks that lost 10 and 8 yards on back-to-back Arizona series in the fourth quarter. Arizona left tackle D'Anthony Batiste had a difficult evening trying to stay in front of Smith, who had one of his strongest games of the season, finishing with six tackles.
Thumbs down: It's a little nitpicky, but Smith looked out of sorts and out of place attempting to drop into pass coverage in the flat, where tight end Jeff King got behind Smith and burned him for a 27-yard reception. That dimension of Smith's game is still a work in progress.
Thumbs up: They were held under 100 combined rushing yards for the third time this season, but the Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter tandem provided their usual grit and production on the ground, combining for 98 yards rushing on a workmanlike 26 carries. The Niners are now 18-0 during the Jim Harbaugh era when Gore and Hunter combine for 20 or more carries in a game.
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