The San Francisco 49ers came out swinging in their 27-19 win over the Detroit Lions, taking a 7-0 led three minutes into the first quarter. The 49ers defense kept in check a very dangerous Lions passing attack and the 49ers offense took advantage of three defensive backs missing in the Lions secondary. The post game spotlight, of course, was not on the head coaches but on the players who contributed to the 49ers win.
In my 5 Things to Watch For preview of the game, I wrote whichever team pulled out the win, would be able to claim best in NFC. Problem was the post was written before any of the games started on Sunday. By the time the 49ers finished off the Lions with a decisive win, the Patriots and Ravens lost winnable games, the Saints went to 0-2, and the Giants had to clawed back from a 14-point deficit in third quarter for a 34-24 win over the Bucs. Not only can the San Francisco 49ers now claim to be best in the NFC, but the label is also true for rest of the NFL. Niner fans, it has been a long while since we have been able to call the 49ers best in the NFL. Let’s hand out some Game Gold Nugget awards:
= VERY GOOD
Alex Smith played his most clutch game of his career. I don’t recall another game where Smith played so well in all aspects of the game. He was poised passing in the pocket completing 65 percent of his passes and was clutch in the fourth quarter, leading a remarkable 79-yard scoring drive with 3:04 left in the game. Smith threw his second touchdown pass of the game to Vernon Davis (5 Rec, 73 Yds, 2 TDs) to give the 49ers a 27-12 lead. In the decisive drive, Smith completed six of his seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, and completed three 3rd-and-long passes, of 7, 16, 11 yards to Michael Crabtree (6 Rec, 67 Yds, 0 TD). Without an interception in the game, Smith has now thrown 216 straight regular-season passes without a pick.
Frank Gore (17 Carries, 89 Yds, 1 TD) led the 49ers rushing attack that made the Lions account for the run game. This helped open up the passing game and led to Smith carving up a hurting Lions secondary.
The offense did have six drop passes which was the biggest issue in an otherwise well executed game.
With the Niners defense mostly in nickel formation to help double cover Calvin Johnson (8 Rec, 94 Yds, 0 TD), the Lions offense tried to show they are not one-dimensional. They ran on an unusual 26 of their first 51 plays on offense. Lion running backs Kevin Smith (16 Carries, 53 Yds, 0 TD) and Joique Bell (6 Carries, 14 Yds, 0 TD) had little success against the best run stopping defense in the NFL. The Lions rushing attack only averaged 3.2 yards per attempt. The defense has not allowed a rushing touchdown or given up 100 yards to a running back in last the nine home games.
Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman showed why they are two of the best middle linebackers in the NFL with a combined 15 tackles and the coverage they provided. The Niners D limited a powerful passing offense led by Matthew Stafford who in the previous four regular-season games averaged 408.9 passing yards. Stafford had 230 passing yards and one touchdown which came late in the fourth quarter. The Lions offense managed six drives going to the 49ers’ 40-yard line, but only came away with four field goals and zero touchdowns, before scoring late in the fourth quarter.
We all knew Megatron would get his receptions, but what was huge in limiting his damage was tackling him as soon as he made the catch. Safeties Dashon Goldson (5 TK, 1 Int) and Donte Whitner (3 TK) were relentless in achieving this on defense. Goldson’s interception in the first-quarter set up the Niners second touchdown of the game with Gores one-yard TD run.
Despite Andy Lee’s thumb hurting, he still handled the place holder duties and landed two punts inside the 20. He also booted one punt 52 yards. David Akers was perfect with two field goals of 36 and 48 yards.
The special teams could really use Ted Ginn Jr. in the return game. Kendall Hunter, who has taken over kickoff returners duties, fumbled in the first-quarter which led to a field goal by the Lions. The turnover ended a streak of six straight regular-season games without a turnover. The 49ers were one game away from tying the record. Kyle Williams was able to handle an onside kick by the Lions that sealed the win.
The kickoff coverage allowed Stefan Logan to run back a 40 –yard return which led to a Lions field goal.
Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff executed their game plan almost perfectly on offense and defense. Harbaugh knew the offense could exploit the Lions missing three starting defensive backs. Even with the temptation to just pass all game against an injured secondary, offense coordinator Greg Roman called a balanced and successful game. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knew he had to double cover Megatron all game, while at the same time generating a pass rush to flush Stafford out of the pocket where he is less effective throwing. Fangio was able to get a constant pass rush on Stafford without rushing more than four players.
Towards the end of the game I did not understand why specials teams coach Brad Seely had everyone on the kickoff return team, including Kyle Williams, on the line to field the onside kick. The 49ers called a timeout when they first lined up in the kickoff formation and there was a chance to correct it. After the timeout, they lined up again with everyone on the line. Luckily Williams was able to recover the onside kick, but he had to scramble for it.
Jim Harbaugh on Alex Smith’s bloody nose…
Tough as a $2 steak.
Anthony Davis’ answer to the question ‘Is this a rivalry’…
No. We beat them both times.