What it means: The 49ers affirmed their status as the most complete team in the NFC West and the clear favorite to win the division. Their 6-2 record gives them a two-game lead over Seattle and Arizona, with St. Louis lagging three games back. San Francisco appears ready to pull away from its rivals over the second half of the season. The Cardinals appear less likely than Seattle to challenge for a playoff spot.
What I liked: The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson went head to head on a national stage. The young first-round draft choices matched up several times in the first half. Crabtree enjoyed a clear advantage this time. He now has won two of their past three matchups.
Crabtree outmuscled Peterson to grab a high pass in the end zone. He broke away from Peterson and kept his balance during a 22-yard reception to set up a David Akers field goal. Later, Crabtree left Peterson on the grass en route to another scoring reception. The 49ers' passing game hadn't gotten going like this since the game against Buffalo three weeks ago.
Alex Smith's finger injury obviously isn't a factor any longer. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith got the ball to his receivers and let them do much of the work, including when Randy Moss shook Jamell Fleming and Paris Lenon along the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.
For the Cardinals, Daryl Washington collected two more sacks, giving him eight for the season. That's tremendous production from an inside linebacker. Washington should challenge for a Pro Bowl berth this season, particularly with Dallas' Sean Lee out for the year. The 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman also are in the mix for Pro Bowl berths at inside linebacker, of course.
Cardinals rookie receiver Michael Floyd, although inconsistent, flashed talent by making a left-handed grab while falling to the ground in the final minutes.
What I didn't like: The Cardinals' defense had no answer for the 49ers' offense. San Francisco ran the ball at will early in the game, then succeeded through the air before and after the catch. Arizona has been much better on defense much of the season. However, four of the Cardinals' five most recent opponents -- Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota and San Francisco -- have moved the ball too easily on the ground, through the air or both ways.
This was the first time all season Arizona allowed more than 21 points in a game.
Of course, Arizona's offense deserves a fair amount of the blame. The defense can't do everything. Quarterback John Skelton threw inaccurately with and without imminent pressure. That has been typical for him. On some plays, inaccuracy made it nearly impossible for Cardinals receivers to make gains after the catch. Receivers had to reach for balls just to make catches, allowing defenders to close ground.
Smith, despite his strong passing performance, held the ball too long, taking sacks. He risked injuries unnecessarily while setting back the offense. Smith took hard hits from Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket after having time to unload the ball.
Also, 49ers guard Alex Boone committed a face mask penalty to kill a promising San Francisco drive early in the game.
Advantage, Goldson: Niners safety Dashon Goldson leveled Cardinals receiver Early Doucet following a short reception over the middle. Goldson celebrated by holding both arms skyward. This one might have been personal.
Goldson and Doucet brawled during a Week 11 game between the teams last season. The league levied a $25,000 fine against Goldson and a $10,000 fine against Doucet. Doucet was the instigator, but the NFL cited him for only unnecessary roughness, while Goldson was cited for fighting, which carries higher fines.
Doucet returned to the game.
Draft-pick comparison: The Cardinals selected Peterson fifth overall in 2011 when they could have taken Aldon Smith, who went to the 49ers two picks later. Both have been impact players overall, but Smith had the better night Monday. He had two sacks.
Fitzgerald shaken up: Larry Fitzgerald remained in the game and was on the field in the final minutes despite getting shaken up when he went face first into the grass during the first half. There was no injury announcement made in relation to Fitzgerald. He returned to the game quickly.
Roof open: While states in the East weathered Sandy, the Cardinals opened the roof for this game. The official play-by-play sheet said the temperature was 90 degrees at kickoff. The thermometer on my rental car read in the 80s several hours earlier. Either way, the NFL lucked out with its scheduling for this game.