By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
For the first time since the Jim Harbaugh era kicked off in San Francisco, the 49ers no longer sit atop the NFC West.
No, sir. After upsetting the Patriots in Foxborough in Week 2 and then making quick work of the turnover-prone Eagles on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals remain undefeated at 3-0.
The 49ers, believe it or not, were out-coached and out-played by the underdog Vikings in a 24-13 defeat. Sam Bradford and the Rams were even worse against Chicago, falling to 1-2 on the year.
1. The Cardinals Defense is Too Legit to Quit
When Zona shut down Brady and the Pats in New England last Sunday, it became evident they were building a dominant force on the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinals came into Week 3 ranking fourth in the NFL in Cold, Hard Football Facts Defensive Hog Index, and sixth in Defensive Passer Rating.
Arizona burst out to a 24-0 lead at halftime and cruised to a convincing, 27-6 battering of the Eagles. Kevin Kolb put forth another solid effort, but it was the swarming D that set the tone from start to finish.
Philly did have success on the ground (when they actually chose to run), but the Cardinals vaunted pass rush sacked Michael Vick five times and forced him to fumble twice. The Eagles' offensive line is a mess, and the Cards weren't going to let up.
Philly was able to overcome nine turnovers to start the season 2-0, but Arizona wasn't about to become the Eagles' third straight comeback victim.
Vick was hit 13 times and safety James Sanders took a fumble 93 yards for a score right before halftime. The Cardinals defense has allowed just 40 points over three games, and the only question they're asking in the desert is: who's next?
Arizona's next four opponents: Miami, St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota.
2. The San Francisco 49ers Came Crashing Back to Earth
There's no way around it, the 49ers stunk up the Metrodome on Sunday.
Alex Smith's streak of 249 passes without an interception came to an abrupt end in the 24-13 loss, and the Niners uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times.
Some were calling it a potential "trap game" for San Francisco, after the way they handled the Packers and Lions in consecutive weeks. It was Minnesota doing the handling in this one, to most everyone's surprise. QB Christian Ponder found the end zone three times (two passing, one rushing) and the Vikings pass rush had Alex Smith rattled all afternoon.
The 49ers had numerous opportunities to gain momentum throughout the contest. Kyle Williams opened the second half with a 94-yard kick return but the offense couldn't punch it in, settling for three points.
Few expected the 49ers to drop the ball in this game. Under Harbaugh's lead, the 49ers are 16-4 and a remarkable 15-4-1 against the spread. They went into Minneapolis tied for the NFC West lead and favored by more than a touchdown. Now they're a game behind the Cardinals and have a meeting with the 2-1 Jets at the Meadowlands next week.
3. Kevin Kolb Might Not Suck So Bad After All
Okay, so Kevin Kolb isn't terrible. Heck, we can't even call him sub-par anymore. With an elite defense backing him up, Kolb is 3-0 and doesn't look to be coughing up the starting QB gig anytime soon.
The 28-year-old signal caller found the end zone twice and protected the pigskin with perfection. Kolb has 59 pass attempts on the year and is yet to throw a pick.
The defense will continue to steal the spotlight, and deservedly so, but Kolb has quietly proven he's the man for the job, even after John Skelton is ready to return from injury.
4. Rams' O-Line Could Be A Burden All Season
St. Louis' defense showed up to play for a third straight week, but the offensive line was nowhere to be found in the team's 23-6 loss to the Bears.
Sam Bradford was sacked six times and absorbed nine hits in all, thanks partially to horrid blocking up front. The QB was pressured all afternoon, completing just over 50 percent of his throws (18 for 35) and tossing up two picks.
To make matters worse, St. Louis was just as bad in the run game. Steven Jackson carried the ball 11 times, but gained only 29 yards. The Rams mustered just 160 yards of offense in all.
Life isn't going to get any easier in the coming weeks, the Rams next two games are divisional opponents (Seahawks and Cardinals) with extremely tough defenses.
5. A Seattle Win on Monday Night Football Turns This Division Into a Three-Way Dogfight
Monday Night Football comes to CenturyLink field this week, and the Seahawks are more than capable of coming out on top against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
If Seattle does pull it off, they'll find themselves alongside the 49ers at 2-1 in being a game behind the division-leading Cardinals. Even after Sunday's upset, the Niners likely remain the favorite to win the west, but certainly not by a landslide.
Arizona clearly means business, and we'd be foolish to write off the Seahawks if they can stave off the Packers on Sunday.