The stigma that led up to this game against the Arizona Cardinals, a hated and respected division rival, was that we were susceptible to playing a so-called let-down game where we surrender to the feeling of being just comfortable enough to not really care. That was and never will be the case when you factor in the one game at a time mentality of Jim Harbaugh.
Every facet of this San Francisco 49er team was a distinct factor in our victory over the Arizona Cardinals 23-7 at home in Candlestick including the soggy Bay area pelting rain that caused the cleats to tear up huge chunks of Bill Walsh real estate. Of course, the defense once again led the charge with five turnovers as a nice round cumulative total with one of them being a muffed punt that was recovered by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
The Vic Fangio orchestra of elite playmakers went to work as usual like a gang of blue-collar construction workers getting ready to take on another impossible task. Donte Whitner, Patrick Willis and Dashon Goldson all intercepted passes by Arizona Cardinal quarterback John Skelton. Skelton was coming off two Arizona victories as its starting quarterback against St. Louis and Philadelphia after replacing Kevin Kolb.
If there is anyone in the NFL more deserving of actually being Defensive Player of the Year, it is our revered monster linebacker in Patrick Willis with his interception and forced fumble on the day that was recovered by Donte Whitner and was challenged by Jim Harbaugh after the fumble originally was thought to be down by contact. Instant replay quickly uncovered Arizona Cardinal running back Beanie Wells fumbling the ball in a sea of 49er defenders.
These things caused us to take a 23-0 lead into the start of the fourth quarter and the defense continued its ravaging ways by recording two sacks with one by rookie linebacker Aldon Smith who continues to lead the team in sacks with 7.5 on the season after dropping Richard Bartel for a six-yard loss. Fellow teammate linebacker Ahmad Brooks upped his total to six on the season and continues to be a dividend for the team that keeps the positive returns to keep happening.
The ferocity and intensity that this defense plays on each and every Sunday is a marvel to watch as we play to keep the game close in every beginning stages of the game, believing that the defense will make the proper adjustments to allow our offense just enough room to manufacture the required points to win the game. In my opinion, there seems to be no real weakness in any form on this unit as it is superior to any other team I know in preparation for its opponent each and every week.
Putting us in a position to actually clinch our division and win our first NFC West title since 2002. It is even harder to believe that we are the number two seed in the entire National Football Conference with only the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers sitting right above us in the pecking order of things. As one of the faithful I never would have believed that we were capable of being where we are today under a first year head coach as many of you feel today. Yet with Jim Harbaugh and his entire coaching staff they have been blessed to manufacture a belief amongst all the players on this team.
Offensively we did enough to win this game. Alex Smith was not at all as sharp as he has been as he completed 20-of-38 passes for 267 total yards with two touchdowns and a fourth quarter interception on third and goal from the six-yard line. Some of his passes would've made their target if he hadn't overthrown them to both Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree which ultimately could've been actual touchdowns.
What is the point in bringing up Alex's miscalculations since we won the game anyways? The most important one is lost points on the scoreboard and red zone effectiveness in actually scoring touchdowns versus settling for field goals. Smith's accuracy has always been a concern to not just me but many sports analysts and critics still today, despite the fact that he has made a lot of improvement in his footwork and mechanics with better coaching.
Becoming a more accurate quarterback will be a key element to advancing our winning record forward and especially when it comes playoff time. Completions and better quarterback ratings are actual statistics that validate a quarterback in regards to their accuracy and ability to sometimes carry the team on their backs when at all necessary. Alex left the game this day with a rating of 81.8, always being above 100 is the key to success. He did hit eight different receivers though so ball placement is at an all time high with him in not focusing in one specific target all too often.
We are seeing an improved Alex Smith, but is it enough in regards to the accuracy problems we still see? Hopefully all that will work itself out as we proceed with the rest of the regular season. I think we could have scored close to 50 total points in this game if some of those passes had actually been caught and secured. Facing opponents such as the Baltimore Ravens will require that we make those points rather than just leaving them on the field.
David Akers missed three field goals having two blocked. I am not worried about his ability to adjust as he came back strong later in the game. Special team's adjustments will be made and we still made Arizona's average starting point their 23-yard line compared to our 38. Our complete domination of our division rival and our fifth consecutive victory over them was and still is enough celebration for now. "Now who has it better then us?"
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.