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October 29, 2012
Harbaugh cries fowl over Alex Smith criticism

SmithCards.jpg

GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- Alex Smith's confidence? Fine. The 49ers' passing attack? Resurrected. Michael Crabtree's and Randy Moss's big-play ability? They sure looked dangerous against the Cardinals.

The 49ers answered all the nagging questions about them on Monday with a decisive 24-3 romp over their most bitter rivals, a win that gives them a two-game lead in the division as they head into 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 that many attempts. His one incompletion was a dropped pass, although he got plenty of help from Crabtree and Moss -- and some shoddy tackling by the Cardinals defensive backs -- along the way. Both receivers turned short passes into touchdowns, with Moss's score going 47 yards and proving that the 35-year-old receiver still can outrun rookies.

Smith's near-perfect 157.1 passer rating was even better than the mark he posted in an Oct. 7 blowout victory against the Bills -- 156.2 -- which had been the best statistical game of his career. After throwing for 303 yards in that contest, however, Smith and 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 Giants. He also seemed off kilter four days later in a win over the Seahawks, a game in which he threw a touchdown but also had an ugly interception in the end zone on a pass to Moss.

With that, all of the goodwill Smith had built up in the 2011 postseason and earlier this year 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 head 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, funk-jive turkey gobblers. 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 opened the scoring with the kind of aggressive pass from Smith that fans -- and some 49ers receivers -- have been clamoring for in recent weeks. Following a seven-play drive, Smith and the 49ers faced third and goal from the Arizona 3-yard line. Smith took the snap, dropped back and fired a pass to Crabtree with cornerback Patrick Peterson's back turned toward the quarterback.

Crabtree, whom 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 common theme.

In the second quarter, the 49ers receiver took a short pass from Smith in the red zone, cut hard inside and left Peterson sprawling on the grass as Crabtree ran into the end zone. He also 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 8 in the third quarter. Instead of running out of bounds, Moss cut back inside, blew past rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming and then outraced the rest of the Cardinals defense for his second touchdown of the year.

"It was a five-receiver set, so we really didn't have the ends protected, but the line protected it," Moss said afterward. "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 Monday 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 a---- today."



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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