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  • PAUL CONNORS / Associated Press

    The 49ers' Michael Crabtree makes a three-yard touchdown catch against the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson in the first quarter.

  • ROSS D. FRANKLIN / Associated Press

    Alex Smith (11) is congratulated by Alex Boone in the second quarter after throwing his second scoring pass to Michael Crabtree.

Alex Smith goes 18 of 19 as 49ers romp

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 - 7:59 am

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Alex Smith's confidence? Fine. The 49ers' passing attack? Resurrected. Michael Crabtree's and Randy Moss' big-play ability?

They sure looked dangerous against the Arizona Cardinals.

The 49ers answered all the nagging questions about them Monday night with a 24-3 romp over their most bitter rival, giving them a two-game lead in the NFC West entering their bye week.

Smith nearly pitched a perfect game, going 18 of 19 for 232 yards, the best completion percentage in NFL history for a quarterback with at least that many attempts.

He got plenty of help from Crabtree and Moss – and some shoddy tackling by the Cardinals' defensive backs. Both receivers turned short passes into touchdowns, with Moss' score covering 47 yards and proving the 35-year-old wide receiver still can outrun rookies.

Smith's near-perfect 157.1 passer rating surpassed his 156.2 mark in an Oct. 7 blowout victory over Buffalo, a game that statistically had been the best of his career.

After Smith threw for 303 yards against the Bills, however, the 49ers' passing attack went into hibernation for the next two outings.

He threw three interceptions and finished with a 43.1 passer rating in a lopsided loss to the New York Giants. He also seemed off kilter four days later in a win over Seattle, passing for a touchdown but throwing an ugly interception in the end zone on a ball intended for Moss.

With that, all of the goodwill Smith had built up in the 2011 postseason and earlier this season evaporated. His confidence was questioned, and observers wondered why the 49ers' coaches were taking the ball out of his hand at key moments.

Smith and coach Jim Harbaugh said they never had a doubt.

"I think it's just a lot of gobble, gobble, turkey," Harbaugh said of the reports of Smith's damaged psyche. "Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey. That paints a pretty good picture. He's a very confident guy."

And what about the fact that backup Colin Kaepernick, who had regular appearances in previous games, didn't take a snap against Arizona? Did that contribute to Smith's performance?

"No," Harbaugh said. "No, (it's) more gobble, gobble."

The 49ers (6-2) opened the scoring with the kind of aggressive pass from Smith that fans – and some 49ers receivers – have been clamoring for in recent weeks.

Smith and the 49ers faced third and goal from the Arizona 3-yard line. Smith dropped back and fired a pass to Crabtree with cornerback Patrick Peterson's back turned toward the quarterback.

Crabtree, who Harbaugh has said has the best hands he'd ever seen, reached over Peterson's helmet to secure the ball and give the 49ers an early 7-0 lead.

Crabtree upstaging Peterson, the Cardinals' top draft pick a year ago, turned out to be a theme.

With the 49ers at the Arizona 9 in the second quarter, Crabtree took a short pass from Smith, cut hard inside and left Peterson sprawling on the grass as he ran into the end zone. He escaped Peterson on two other throws, including one on third and 23 in which he picked up 22 yards and set up a 43-yard field goal by David Akers.

Moss also made the Arizona defensive backs look bad when he caught a short sideline pass on third and eight in the third quarter. Instead of running out of bounds, Moss cut back inside, blew past rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming and outraced the rest of the Cardinals' defense for his second touchdown of the season.

"It was a five-receiver set, so we really didn't have the ends protected, but the line protected it," Moss said. "The quarterback delivered. I caught it, ran, had some blocks downfield, and it was as simple as that."

After leaning on their running game against the Seahawks, the 49ers found the Cardinals clogging the line of scrimmage and daring the beleaguered Smith and his wideouts to beat them.

They obliged, although Smith was characteristically circumspect after the game.

Asked if he thought his critics ever would go away, he said: "At this point, I don't care. If you had asked me that a few years ago, maybe, but at this point, I don't really care. I'm only about winning, and the guys in the locker room know what I am about. That's all that really matters."

Instead, it was Smith's teammates who showed some attitude in their quarterback's honor.

Said left tackle Joe Staley of the Cardinals' strategy: "They wanted to put the ball in Alex's hands and have him beat them. And he kicked their (butt) today."

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Read more articles by Matthew Barrows

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