SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers offense controlled the clock.The 49ers defense controlled the Arizona Cardinals.And the 49ers continued to control the NFC West -- as well as their playoff positioning -- with an imperfect-yet-effective 23-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Candlestick Park.The 49ers clinched their first winning season since 2002, which also happened to be the last time the franchise advanced to the playoffs. They can clinch the division title next week with a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday and a Seattle loss.
The 49ers remained one game behind the Green Bay Packers (10-0) in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The top two teams get first-round byes.
"It does feel good," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "(But) it's a little frustrating in the passing game with some of the stuff we left out there."The 49ers gained a lot of yards (431) but scored touchdowns on just two of their six trips inside the Cardinals 20-yard line. And the usually reliable kicking game sputtered, as David Akers made just three of his six first-half field-goal attempts. Two of his first-half attempts were blocked.So while the 49ers held the ball for an NFL season-high 44 minutes, 16 seconds of the game, they were never able to create the kind of separation expected when a defense comes up with five takeaways. It was the 49ers' biggest time of possession in a non-overtime game since Oct. 20, 1991, when the 49ers held the ball for 45:04 in a 35-3 victory over Detroit."It makes it more frustrating because of the way they (the 49ers defense) were playing," Smith said. "We really made that game more difficult than it had to be."If we were able to capitalize on a couple of those drives early with the way our defense was playing, all of a sudden that game gets really lopsided."Smith completed 20 of 38 passing attempts for 267 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The 49ers did not start feeling comfortable until Smith found receiver Kyle Williams and tight end Vernon Davis on touchdown passes of 8 and 18 yards less than three minutes apart in the third quarter.
Michael Crabtree had a season-best seven catches for 120 yards. And Williams might have earned more playing time, as he caught five passes for 54 yards. He helped compensate for a gimpy Braylon Edwards, who was held without a catch."I don't think he's 100 percent, but there was improvement this week," Harbaugh said of Edwards, who missed four games earlier this season after undergoing surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee. "Toward the end of the week, he was starting to feel pretty darn good."Edwards and running back Frank Gore sat out the fourth quarter with the 49ers in control with a 23-0 lead. Gore, who was nursing a sore right knee, gained 88 yards on 24 rushes.While it was not a particularly crisp game for the 49ers' passing game, it was a lot better than anything the Cardinals could generate on the wet field.Arizona quarterback John Skelton, who entered with a two-game win streak after taking over for injured Kevin Kolb, completed just 6 of 19 attempts for 99 yards with three interceptions.Skelton was benched in the second half, and Richard Bartel entered and completed 8 of 16 for 64 yards and a touchdown."Our defense played extremely well," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We won that game on the strength of a lot of things, but none more important than the turnovers we were able to get in the kicking game with our defense."The 49ers extended their NFL lead in the takeawaygiveaway column to a plus-17. Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner recorded interceptions. Willis forced a fumble that Whitner recovered, and special-teamer Tavares Gooden forced a fumble that NaVorro Bowman jumped on."We know that any time you get turnovers and get back on offense, it makes your chances of scoring and winning even higher," Willis said. "We also know that any time we can be great in the turnover margin by getting the ball that a lot of times it leads to something great. So far, that's what we've been doing."The 49ers appeared to be in control throughout the game, except when Goldson lost control of his emotions early in the fourth quarter. Goldson retaliated after Cardinals receiver Early Doucet took a swipe at Goldson, who was on the ground after Aldon Smith recorded a sack.Goldson got to his feet and took several swings at Doucet during the melee. Goldson was penalized 15 yards and ejected from the game. Afterward, he was remorseful while speaking to teammates in the locker room, Harbaugh said.The 49ers return to action Thursday night for a Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh game Thanksgiving night in Baltimore against the John Harbaugh-coached Ravens.