GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The wait is over, and the whispers of skepticism can be put to rest.

Football followers in bars and barber shops and fantasy leagues can stop wondering if Michael Crabtree is capable of producing in the NFL as he did in his brief but fabulous college career.

He is.

The fourth-year 49ers wide receiver is not ready to be an automatic selection for the Pro Bowl, but he can be a star -- and absolutely will be if he continues down the path laid during San Francisco's nationally televised 24-3 devastation of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

After three seasons during which the 49ers -- and, more pointedly, their fans -- waited for Crabtree to provide spectacular moments, their wish finally was fulfilled with the help of a stellar performance by quarterback Alex Smith.

"It's about getting opportunities, man," Crabtree said while walking toward the team bus afterward.

Crabtree got five opportunities, five passes thrown his way. He caught all five, two for touchdowns.

The two touchdown passes made no grand announcement; he has done that before. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about catching five passes; he has caught more in a single game.

What made this performance distinctive was the sheer roundness of it.

"You could tell really early that Michael Crabtree was on fire," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He was running the ball extremely hard, physical running (and also made) some good blocks in the secondary."


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Already appreciated for his marvelous hands, Crabtree on this night flashed speed and quickness and strength and instincts and determination.

These, you may recall, were the attributes exhibited during his matchless two-year collegiate career at Texas Tech, where he was widely regarded as college football's best receiver and his post-catch theatrics made him a one-man highlight reel.

This is what San Francisco expected but has not fully received since making Crabtree the 10th overall pick in 2009.

The first 50 games of his career have been compromised by a number of factors, from being a rookie holdout to missing his first three training camps to being betrayed by his own body, particularly his feet.

Crabtree is healthy now, fully healthy for the first time as a 49er. And the results are coming in.

He has been targeted 55 times in eight games, and he has caught 39 passes. His yards-after-catch totals are better than those of Atlanta star Roddy White and rival those of Detroit megastar Calvin Johnson.

"He's having a good year," fellow receiver Randy Moss said. "It's good to see guys that you come to work with every day out there making plays. Crabs made some key plays for us."

Crabtree's most impressive catch came in the first quarter, when he outmuscled Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson for a 3-yard touchdown.

"It was a great play by Michael," Harbaugh said. "It was a great throw by Alex, really strong 'hands' catch by Michael Crabtree."

Crabtree's most impressive play was turning a short pass from Smith and using his running instincts to turn it into a 30-yard play, and his quickness was introduced when he caught another short pass and darted untouched into the end zone for a 9-yard score.

"We're always talking about it," Crabtree said of red-zone opportunities, "but when it happens in a game you just have to make the most of it."

It helped immensely that Smith was outstanding: 18 of 19 passing, for 232 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. His rating was 157.1 (out of a possible 158.3).

It also helped that Moss, the veteran hired to bring wisdom and the dimension of speed to the offense, was able to take a short pass and wiggle and race to a 47-yard touchdown that put away Arizona.

Suddenly, there it was, a San Francisco passing game, featuring touchdowns from anywhere on the field and wide receivers abusing an opposing secondary.

This was the vision during those February discussions between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke. They understood the limitations of their offense and realized the need for speed and explosion.

They got it Monday night.

"It was fun to see, fun to see guys in space and getting the ball to them quick and letting them make plays," said Smith, who conceded that, yes, Crabtree often lobbies for more action.

This is the Michael Crabtree the 49ers thought they were getting in 2009, the player who can be a difference-maker in 2012.

If he can bring it like this every week -- assuming he gets opportunities to do so on a unit built around the run -- he will be a star in the NFL.

And if Crabtree becomes a star in San Francisco, well, you can raise the expectations for him and for this offense.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.