By Cam Inman, Contra Costa Times –
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Smith was nearly perfect Monday, completing 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns as the San Francisco 49ers crushed the Arizona Cardinals 24-3.
The only thing standing between Smith and perfection was a pass dropped by Delanie Walker. Although Smith’s 94.7 completion rate was the best in history for a minimum of 15 attempts, the NFL record book requires 20 attempts — one more than Smith had.
“To be honest,” said Smith, “I don’t think anybody had a clue about that. We aren’t a stats team.”
The 49ers are, however, a first-place team with a two-game lead in the NFC West at 6-2. Arizona (4-4), after opening the season with four wins, was looking to stop its skid and also make a statement against the reigning division champs.
“It was a big test for us,” said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, “and everybody saw how it went.”
Michael Crabtree caught two touchdown passes before Randy Moss scored on a 47-yard catch-and-run. Those points, and the Cardinals’ futility, ensured that the 49ers wouldn’t cave as they did in last December’s visit to Arizona, when they blew a 19-7 lead in an eventual 21-19 defeat.
For the fourth time in five games, the 49ers didn’t allow a touchdown.
A near-perfect first half resulted in a 17-0 halftime lead, as best exemplified by Smith’s stat line (14 of 15, 146 yards) and the Cardinals’ rushing totals (6 yards on eight carries by LaRod Stephens-Howling).
Smith matched his single-game career high when he threw his third touchdown pass, although Moss did most of the work on it as he dashed 47 yards for the third-quarter touchdown and a 24-0 lead.
Crabtree and Moss entered the game with only one touchdown apiece. Moss’ score marked his 155th career touchdown, and 18th in 19 career “Monday Night Football” games.
“I was happy to see that,” said Crabtree, who celebrated Moss’ success as much as his own, if not more. “I was smiling from ear to ear.”
Moss has developed quite a fan club among his teammates, challenging his long-standing image to the contrary.
“The thing I like most is he’s a really great communicator,” Smith said. “He’s always making sure we’re on the same page. It was great to see him make that play.”
All three of Smith’s touchdown passes came on third-down plays. Smith finished with a 157.1 passer rating (158.3 is perfect).
The 49ers’ defense made a slew of tackles for loss, and its shutout bid didn’t end until the final minute of the third quarter, when Jay Feely kicked a 28-yard field goal.
That field goal only riled up the 49ers defense more. On the Cardinals’ next series, safety Dashon Goldson leveled receiver Early Doucet to break up a pass across the middle. Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith produced back-to-back sacks on the next two snaps.
Crabtree staked the 49ers to a 7-0 lead when he beat Patrick Peterson at the goal line to snag Smith’s 3-yard pass on third-and-goal. Crabtree produced a 9-yard touchdown reception to put the 49ers ahead 17-0 with 1:41 left in the first half.
“Great play by Michael,” coach Jim Harbaugh said of the first touchdown. “And a great throw by Alex. A really strong-hand catch by Michael, and Alex lasered it in there.”
It was a strong performance by Crabtree, who caught five passes for 72 yards while tangling with Arizona’s star cornerback Peterson. Crabtree said he drew no extra motivation from that matchup.
“I’m out there playing,” he said. “I don’t see no names.”