Published: Oct 30, 2012 1:17 AM EDT
Updated: Oct 30, 2012 6:31 AM EDT

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - The Arizona Cardinals had another Monday night nightmare.

This time, there weren't any postgame rants by the coach or the quarterback.

After a 24-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, all that was left for the Cardinals was an acceptance that they didn't play very well and were beaten by a better team.

"Disappointed, that's my No. 1 feeling tonight," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "On that kind of stage, you want to play better. You want to represent your fans and yourself better. We didn't do it."

Monday has been a night of horrors for the Cardinals since moving from St. Louis in 1988.

Arizona (4-4) has lost eight of nine Monday Night Football games in the desert and had some memorably ugly postgame moments, from coach Dennis Green's they-are-who-we-thought-they-were rant in 2006 and quarterback Derek Anderson's "I wasn't smiling!" proclamation the last time the Cardinals played on Monday night in 2010.

This one was just plain ugly.

Arizona's defense, one of the best in the NFL the first seven games, surrendered a nearly perfect night to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and whiffed on countless tackles while giving up its most points this season.

The Cardinals' struggling offense was at its stuck-in-the-mud worst, managing 69 yards in the first half and 7 yards rushing overall while quarterback John Skelton was hounded yet again.

The home fans booed once the score started to get out of hand, even when the Cardinals trotted out Jay Feely for a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter.

The players hung their heads when it was over, left with little to say after an embarrassing loss at home, Arizona's fourth straight after opening the season 4-0.

"It's in front of a national audience and we only put up three points and lost by 21," Skelton said. "It's frustrating and humiliating, to be honest.

San Francisco (6-2) manhandled the Cardinals from the start after a 10-day rest, its offensive line bulling Arizona's defenders off the line, its defense chasing Skelton relentlessly.

The 49ers built a 17-0 halftime lead behind Smith's precision passing and prevented even a thought of a comeback by stuffing the run game and sacking Skelton four times.

With four wins in five games, San Francisco has a two-game lead in the NFC West and a bye week coming up.

"I feel very good about the win, very proud of our team," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I thought they played exceptionally well. A lot of guys to point to, but first and foremost it was a great team win. Really good by all phases, offense, defense, special teams."

Smith picked apart Arizona's defense, completing 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 157.1 while connecting with 10 different receivers.

He hit Michael Crabtree for two scores, a 3-yarder in the first quarter and a 9-yard play in the second, and added a 47-yarder to Randy Moss in the third. Smith's only incompletion was a dropped pass by tight end Delanie Walker on a crossing route in the first half.

"He did a pretty good job of staying with it, waiting for his guys to get open and getting it to them," Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "They had a pretty good game plan toward us with a couple things we hadn't seen on film."

Arizona gave him and the 49ers some extra help. The Cardinals missed numerous tackles, allowing the 49ers extra yards throughout the game.

Sam Acho had a glaring miss in the second quarter, whiffing in the open field during Ted Ginn Jr.'s 35-yard punt return. Several Cardinals defenders were left grasping at air later in the quarter during Moss' dart-and-dash TD through Arizona's defense, one that tied him with Terrell Owens for fourth on the NFL career touchdown list with 156.

"We had opportunities to get them off the field and we didn't do that," Whisenhunt said. "We didn't tackle very well and everybody has to be held accountable for those things."

San Francisco's defense didn't miss many of its chances.

The 49ers entered the game with the NFL's No. 1 rush defense and Arizona barely tested it after falling behind early. The Cardinals ran the ball nine times all night and managed 1 yard in the second half.

San Francisco also battered Skelton, allowing him to throw for 290 yards, but making him feel it on almost all of his 52 throws.

The 49ers held Arizona to 256 total yards and were one drive away from their second shutout of the season.

"We are for real," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "We have a pretty good defense, we can't deny that."

The Cardinals certainly can't after being run over by it during another Monday night meltdown.

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