DETROIT – Typical of a Jim Harbaugh coached team, the San Francisco 49ers used all three phases of the game on Sunday to defeat the Detroit Lions 25-19 at Ford Field.
Up and down the roster, the 49ers received contributions that made the difference in handing the Lions their first loss of 2011.
“It was a very emotional game,” Harbaugh said after his team improved to 5-1 and won its fourth-straight game. “I’m really proud of our football team. They overcame a lot.”
The 49ers defense, too, came up big.
They kept Lions Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson out of the end zone and stopped the Lions twice in the red zone. Rookie linebacker
And last, but certainly not least, the 49ers special teams units were strong as well.
With an inspired home field advantage at Ford Field, the Lions got out to a 10-0 lead to start the game.
But within a 15-minute stretch, the 49ers went on a scoring run of their own, outscoring the Lions 12-0 in the second quarter to get right back in seesaw affair.
The second half was even more of a back-and-forth contest. Leads changed throughout the third and fourth quarters, with the 49ers holding on for good thanks to Walker’s touchdown and Akers’ second field goal which made it a 25-19 final.
The emotional win spilled into the locker room after the game, as it was easily the noisiest 49ers locker room scene in recent memory.
“That’s the NFL for you,” said safety
In the end, the 49ers hung on against a formidable foe, which totaled 310 yards of offense against a stiff 49ers defense.
Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew both caught touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford, who finished the day completing 28-of-50 passes for 293 yards in a losing effort.
For the 49ers, Alex Smith did not have the same type of numbers, but when it counted, Smith engineered an 8-play scoring drive culminating in what Walker called, “The biggest catch of my career.”
Smith finished the game 17-of-32 with 125 passing yards and one interception on an overthrow to Crabtree.
“It was a great win,” Smith said afterwards. “To find a way to pull off another one is special.”
The Lions regained their lead to start the second half, but didn’t score a touchdown in doing so. The 49ers respected red zone defense toughened up and forced Detroit to kick a 24-yard field goal.
Those red zone stops proved to be the difference in the game.
“It would have been a completely different game had we not gotten those,” Whitner added.
While Smith was errant on a few throws, Gore, who had a 47-yard run in the first half, picked up 59 yards on his first carry of the third quarter and continued to be solid throughout the day.
“We just have to keep taking small steps,” Gore said on a day where he averaged 5.5 yards per carry against a talented Lions defensive front. “We have to believe in ourselves and our coaches.”
That’s exactly what the 49ers have done, taking on the persona of their head coach, while winning in the city he played collegiately.
At times, however, it didn’t seem like the 49ers would be able to handle the crowd noise coming from Detroit’s spirited fan base.
Kyle Vanden Bosch stripped Smith on the 49ers’ first play from scrimmage and then the crowd got even more amped up after causing the 49ers to false start a few times early on.
“It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire,” Smith said of the fan’s enthusiasm picking up after the penalties called on the 49ers in the first quarter.
In total, the 49ers were flagged 12 times in the opening half. Four of them were false starts. In the second half, however, the 49ers were flagged just three times.
“We made the plays when we needed to,” Smith said, “but there’s a lot of room for improvement for us.”
Thankfully, the 49ers are heading into the bye week, which Harbaugh calls, “Improvement Week.”