There were plenty of highs and a few lows in the 49ers’ 23-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Candlestick Park, but when the game was over the most amazing stat was this:
The San Francisco 49ers, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002, can next week become the first team in the NFL in 2011 to clinch a postseason berth.
With a win over the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night and a loss by the Seattle Seahawks to the Redskins, the NFC West crown will belong to San Francisco.
The Niners won their eighth straight game Sunday to improve their record to 9-1.
After taking a 9-0 lead in the first half at soggy Candlestick, the Niners put the game away with two touchdowns in the third quarter against the turnover-plagued Cardinals (3-7), who gave up the ball five times.
Alex Smith’s TD passes of 8 yards to Kyle Williams and 18 yards to Vernon Davis were the decisive scores. The first ended a 13-play drive that ate up 7:48 of the quarter. The second came just minutes later, set up by Donte Whitner’s interception.
Statistically, it was one of Smith’s best games of the year – though he was off target early -- as he completed 20 of 38 throws for 267 yards with one interception. Seven of those went to Michael Crabtree, who had 120 yards receiving.
Frank Gore, who came in with a sore right knee and left ankle, yet vowed to play, carried 24 times for 88 yards.
The Niners defense again was terrific, allowing just 229 yards, getting two sacks and coming up with three interceptions, by Patrick Willis, Whitner and Dashon Goldson. Willis also forced a fumble and led the Niners with six solo tackles.
The game took a few strange twists, with a couple of chippy confrontations – including a melee touched off when punches were thrown between Cardinals receiver Early Doucet and Goldson – and three missed field goals by David Akers, including two that were blocked. San Francisco also lost fullback Bruce Miller to a head injury, and his status for the Thanksgiving night game at Baltimore is undetermined.