Total turnaround

It's days like this that make you wonder how it all possibly could have gone wrong this season. Putting their problems aside for one shimmering afternoon in San Francisco, the 49ers gave vivid flashes of what they could have been this year, and what they hope to be the rest of this month as they attempt to salvage a winning record and surge strong to the finish. They couldn't have surged much stronger than they did Sunday during a highlight-filled 50-14 rout of the Arizona Cardinals.

This magnificent blowout had it all, a complete performance that featured big plays by the Niners on both sides of the ball. In ending a two-game losing streak and improving to 6-7, San Francisco hit the 50-point barrier for the first time since 1994.

And, while an offense that struggled in consecutive road losses the past two weeks suddenly blossomed in its most prolific performance of the past two seasons, quarterback Jeff Garcia resoundingly silenced his critics - for one game at least - while running back Kevan Barlow got people buzzing in his first NFL start.

After the worst game of his career last week in Baltimore, Garcia responded with one of his best. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback accounted for a career-high six touchdowns, throwing for four and rushing for two. It didn't take long for him to put up his big numbers as Garcia did most of his damage in the first two quarters while staking the Niners to a 34-0 halftime lead.

"This was a great overall performance by the team and a performance I can be happy with and move forward on," Garcia said.

Garcia completed 19 of 28 passes for 252 yards and had a quarterback rating of 135.7 before leaving late in the third quarter in favor of Tim Rattay after San Francisco had increased its lead to 43-7 on Garcia's four-yard scoring run.

Garcia also began the scoring with a three-yard touchdown run early in first quarter, the culmination of an opening drive in which the Niners blew 73 yards down the field in five plays, all of them going for first downs.

"We really had to come out with a different emphasis as far as emotion and intensity and start from the beginning," Garcia said. "That's what we did today. We were able to take that first drive and put some points on the board and really put pressure on them all day. It was just one of those things that we knew if we got up early on them, that they were basically going to pack it in. And they pretty much did, and we just continued to bring it at them."

Before Garcia was done bringing it, he had thrown two short touchdown passes to Terrell Owens, an 18-yard scoring strike to Tai Streets and a 27-yard pass that Cedrick Wilson took into the end zone for another score. Garcia completed 10 of his first 11 passes and was 16 of 19 for 221 yards by halftime.

"He just came out and proved a point, there's no question about it," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said.

Garcia wasn't the only one.

Barlow, finally getting his first start with Garrison Hearst nursing a knee injury, gained a career-high 154 yards on 18 carries, displaying powerful bursts through the line and breakaway ability in the open field. It was the second 100-yard rushing game by a San Francisco back this season and the most yards gained rushing in a game by a Niner in the past three seasons.

Barlow also came out early, leaving after the first play of the fourth quarter, when his spectacular, tackle-breaking, weaving 46-yard touchdown run capped San Francisco's scoring and put the 49ers in a run-out-the-clock mode the remainder of the game.

Which is to say, this one could have been even worse. Even after the Cardinals assembled a meaningless 94-yard touchdown drive in the fourth period, the Niners still came away with a dominating 496-217 advantage in total yards.

"That's as well as we've played all year," Erickson said. "We attacked. We were really aggressive in our play selection. When you're working on all cylinders on offense and playing good defense, you're going to win games."

And, yes, the 49ers were playing well on defense, too.

The Niners forced the Cardinals to punt on their first three drives, then ended two of the next three Arizona possessions with turnovers. San Francisco stopped Arizona running back Marcel Shipp - who had run through them in October for 165 yards, the most by an Arizona back since 1993 - on 13 carries for a measly 30 yards.

The Niners also had three sacks and a safety. Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson again was exceptional, and strong safety Tony Parrish had both a fumble and interception, extending his streak to five consecutive games with an interception. He's now tied for second in the NFL with seven.

"(Arizona) ran for 221 yards the first time, they just ran their way to victory against us," Parrish said. "And we were embarrassed last week in Baltimore. So we definitely had more than enough to motivate us."

Now the Niners need to keep that motivation for the road. They visit Cincinnati and Philadelphia in the next two weeks, and if they can somehow manage victories in those games - they're 0-6 on the road so far this season - maybe, if they're really, really lucky, that will leave some sort of significance remaining for their Dec. 27 regular-season finale at home against Seattle.

"This was a total team effort, a great all-around game," Garcia said. "Now let's find a way to do that on the road."

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