49ers/Cardinals: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: Hail, hail to this victory that gives the 49ers a 9-1 start, because this victory carries a different kind of significance than the eight that preceded it this season. The ninth victory is different because it gives the 49ers their first winning season since 2002, that coming with no less than 10 days still remaining in November and six more chances to win still remaining on the schedule. The 49ers will certainly stack more wins this year on top of their current total, but this one represents a tangible milestone in a season that promises to have several others.
Thumbs up: And while we're on the subject of milestones, Vernon Davis reached one when he pulled in his 18-yard scoring reception that put the game on ice with more than four minutes still remaining in the fourth quarter. That gave Davis 34 career touchdown receptions in his 6-plus seasons with the 49ers, a new franchise record for a tight end. Brent Jones had the old record at 33, and it took that four-time Pro Bowl tight end 11 seasons to get that many. Davis will be adding many, many more before his career is over.
Thumbs down: It was bad enough that the 49ers were needing to settle for field-goal attempts at the end of all six of their first-half possessions, all of which drove inside the Arizona 31-yard line and three of which made it inside the Arizona 11. What's even worse is that ulta-reliable kicker David Akers missed three of those six kicks, with two of them getting blocked. That's unusually inept play by San Francisco's dependable field-goal unit, and it represents a rare three-miss day for Akers, who also was wide right on a 49-yard attempt.
Thumbs up: But even on his bad days, Akers remains a scoring machine. The 13th-year veteran was responsible for 11 of San Francisco's 23 points, pushing him past New Orleans kicker John Kasay for the NFL scoring lead with 102 points and keeping Akers on pace to shatter Jerry Rice's team record for most points in a season.
Thumbs up: Nice to see Frank Gore running like Frank Gore again after last week's blip on the screen that saw the seventh-year running back finish with zero yards rushing for the first time in his career while battling ankle and knee injuries. Gore churned for 64 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 88 before taking the fourth quarter off.
Thumbs up: Even with Gore back in fine form, you can no longer call these 49ers a rushing team. Not after quarterback Alex Smith filled the air with a season-high 38 passes, throwing in the direction of eight different targets for the second consecutive game.
Thumbs down: NFL football is a physical, violent game, but there's no reason to lose your cool at any time when you're on the front end of a 23-0 blowout in the fourth quarter. Dashon Goldson didn't throw the first punch, but he did deliver a combination of blows when the officials were watching, and Goldson was subsequently ejected from the game for the his part in a scuffle with receiver Early Doucet, depriving the 49ers of their starting free safety. With that play starting the drive, the Cardinals drove 84 yards in six plays for their only touchdown to thwart a bid by the San Francisco defense for its first shutout since 2009.
Thumbs up: While the offense was having trouble putting up points in the first half, San Francisco's defense limited the Cardinals to just 52 yards of total offense in the first two quarters, and didn't allow Arizona's offense into San Francisco territory on any of the Cardinals' first eight possessions. Arizona never made it past its own 44 on any of those drives.
Thumbs up: Those opportunistic, ball-hawking 49ers recorded five more takeaways, their season high in a season during which the Niners are leading the NFL with a plus-17 turnover differential. This time, special teams also got into the act in support of San Francisco's thieves on defense, stripping punt returner Patrick Peterson for one of two recovered fumbles to go with three interceptions.
Thumbs up: He's an All-Pro tackling machine, but inside linebacker Patrick Willis also is a veritable play-making machine around the football. Willis led the 49ers with seven tackles – three more than any of his teammates – and also had an interception, forced a fumble and got his hands on three Arizona passes in another "Wow" performance.
Thumbs down: Braylon Edwards had a reputation for dropped passes before he came to the 49ers, but this was just short of ridiculous. Edwards couldn't handle a pass on the sideline from Alex Smith on San Francisco's first offensive play, setting the tone for his day, when he had three dropped passes in the first half alone, including on a third-and-goal play from the Arizona 4-yard line when Edwards got wide open in single coverage but let a ball at helmet level go right through his hands. Edwards didn't catch any of the four balls thrown his way Sunday and was shut out for the first time in a game with the 49ers in which he's been active. This was his worst healthy game as a Niner.
Thumbs up: While Edwards has yet to break out as the No. 1 wide receiver many expected him to be, that role now clearly belongs to Michael Crabtree, who had one of the biggest days of his career. Crabtree has never looked better as he made defenders miss and bounced off others in bruising style before finishing with game-high totals of seven receptions for 120 yards, just two yards off his career high. Those totals would have ballooned if Smith hadn't missed Crabtree in the end zone on a play in which Crabtree ran a great spinning route to get wide open.
Thumbs down: Carlos Rogers has been a ball-hawk this season – he was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions entering the game – but he let a sure interception slip right through his hands in the end zone, with Larry Fitzgerald behind him to take advantage of the gratuity to complete a 23-yard touchdown pass that ended the shutout bid midway through the fourth quarter.
Thumbs up: On their way to a 431-229 edge in total yardage, the 49ers had a dominating edge in time of possession, owning the football 44 minutes and 16 seconds while allowing Arizona's offense on the field for all of 15:44 in the game. That was the longest time of possession for the 49ers in a game since 2002.
Thumbs up: And now opposing defenses have yet another weapon to worry about on the 49ers' offense. Kyle Williams entered Sunday's game with four receptions this season and five for his career, but the slippery second-year wide receiver made himself a part of the regular receiving mix Sunday while matching his previous career total with five receptions for 54 yards, including putting San Francisco's first touchdown on the board with an 8-yard scoring catch in the third quarter.
Thumbs up: This officially will be a thumbs up every week until these imposing streaks end: San Francisco's top-ranked rushing defense again didn't come close to allowing a 100-yard rusher or a rushing touchdown, stretching the Niners' streak of consecutive games with that happening in each category to 32 and 11, respectively.
Niners Digest Top Stories
Week 2: Fantasy Football Deep SleepersFantasy Football Expert Jack Delaney reveals some under-the-radar players that could help you gain an edge in your Week 2 matchup.
2016 Expert Sleepers, Busts & BreakoutsThe best high-stakes Fantasy Football Experts and world's highest-ranked fantasy players have contributed to what we call Preseason Pro. A collection of hand-picked fantasy…
Top 10 NFL Celebration FailsRevisiting some of the worst celebration fails in NFL history.
Scout NFL Network08/24/2016
10 greatest one-handed catches in NFL historyCheck out the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring one-handed catches of all-time in the NFL. Find out who comes in after Odell Beckham's catch against the Dallas Cowboys.