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49ers down Cards, win NFC West title

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Michael Crabtree's career day and dazzling catch-making display sent the San Francisco 49ers to another NFC West crown and into the playoffs with some much-needed momentum.

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Crabtree caught touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards and finished with a career-high 172 yards, leading the 49ers to a 27-13 victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday after a slow start.

Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-best 276 yards and two TDs as the Niners (11-4-1) did their part to control the postseason picture - but were still waiting on Green Bay's result at Minnesota to know whether they would earn the NFC's No. 2 seed.

Frank Gore ran for a 2-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for his franchise-best 51st touchdown rushing, breaking a tie with mentor Roger Craig and the late Hall of Famer Joe Perry.

Brian Hoyer went 19 of 34 for 225 yards and a late TD toss in his first career NFL start as Arizona's fourth quarterback. The Cardinals (5-11) lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games in what might have been Ken Whisenhunt's final game as coach.

Crabtree's outstanding outing was the best by a 49ers receiver since Terrell Owens' 166-yard performance on Nov. 25, 2002, against Philadelphia.

Crabtree caught a 31-yard pass to set up his team-leading eighth TD reception on the next play. The sequence put him over 1,000 yards, giving San Francisco its first 1,000-yard receiver since T.O. in 2003.

The next series, Crabtree made a pretty, one-handed grab with his right hand along the left sideline on third-and-11 for a 19-yard gain and first down.

He made a 14-yard catch on fourth down late in the third, and later converted another fourth down with a reception of 7 yards.

What a boost for an injury-depleted receiving corps missing Mario Manningham for the rest of the season because of a knee injury and had tight end Vernon Davis limited a week after sustaining a concussion.

Struggling San Francisco kicker David Akers missed wide left on a 44-yard field goal attempt midway through the second quarter, then did it again with nearly the same kick - from 40 yards this time - 24 seconds before halftime. Akers put his hands on his knees and closed his eyes in frustration as boos rained down from the sellout crowd at Candlestick Park.

He missed for the fourth time in his last eight spanning three games and 13th time in 40 tries after setting an NFL single-season record with 44 in 52 attempts. He had a 21-yard try blocked in the loss at Seattle and returned by Richard Sherman for a 90-yard touchdown.

But Akers bounced back by nailing one from 43 yards early in the second half yet was later clipped in his left, kicking foot by Arizona's Justin Bethel. He stayed in the game, then booted a 26-yard field goal with just more than 9 minutes remaining.

Hoyer exhibited poise in the early moments. He completed 7 of his first 13 passes and three straight - for 7, 15 and 12 yards - during one drive as Arizona took a 3-0 lead on Jay Feely's 35-yard field goal late in the first quarter. Feely added a 31-yarder early in the second to make it 6-0.

The Cardinals outgained the 49ers 129-15 in total yards in the opening quarter and held San Francisco without a first down.

But that didn't last long.

The Cardinals ended a six-game stretch without a touchdown passing when Hoyer hit Michael Floyd on a late 37-yard touchdown pass to end a stretch of six games without a TD in the air.

The Cardinals pounded the ball toward the right side of San Francisco's defensive line where Pro Bowler Justin Smith had been stout against the run all season before getting hurt two weeks ago.

But Hoyer, who replaced the benched Ryan Lindley in last week's 28-13 home loss to the Bears, couldn't make enough plays against San Francisco's stingy defense.

Former starting quarterback Alex Smith made what could have been his final appearance in a 49ers uniform when he entered the game with 5:57 to go - playing to chants of ``Let's Go, Alex!'' and ``Alex! Alex!''

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The Associated Press
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