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Notebook: 49ers Shut Out Jets

Posted Sep 30, 2012

Well into the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 34-0 road victory over the New York Jets, it was clear the game had been decided.

Patrick Willis and the first-string 49ers defense showed up in top form, not allowing the Jets to reach the end zone, let alone the red zone. So as the second stringers stepped on to the field for closing duties, Willis had a little message for them.

“I was, like, ‘Hey, y’all keep that zero up there. That goose egg looks good,’” Willis said. “They shook their heads, like, ‘Don’t worry, P, we got you, man. We got this.’”

Indeed, the No. 2 defense held up to its end of the bargain, holding the Jets to a three-and-out before the 49ers ran out the clock to close the shutout victory.

It marked the first scoreless performance for the 49ers defense since a 26-0, Week 13 defeat of the Rams in 2011, and it’s the biggest shutout victory in the Jim Harbaugh era.

The complete team-wide effort was recognized by players in all three phases of the game. Alex Smith helped lead the 49ers to their biggest offensive output of the 2012 season, but it’s not like the quarterback need many points on Sunday.

“It doesn’t happen often in the NFL,” Smith said of his defense’s shutout. “Any time you can pitch a shutout, just dominate the way they did and get off the field, we had a ton of possessions, a lot of opportunities today.”

The numbers don’t lie.

New York was limited to 145 total yards and crossed into 49ers territory just three times, never making it past the San Francisco 25-yard line. Mark Sanchez went 13-of-29 for 100 yards and a touchdown, while the Jets totaled just 45 rushing yards and went 2-for-13 on third-down conversions.

There were also three sacks, three fumble recoveries, an interception and a touchdown. Talk about domination.

“Our players just really, really played well,” Harbaugh said. “There was a lot of fight, there was a lot of energy. They brought a lot of energy to this game and it was really important to them.”

Perhaps no turnover was more memorable than Carlos Rogers’ 51-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Despite the one-sided affair, the 49ers only carried a 10-0 lead well into third quarter. A Frank Gore touchdown run made it 17-0 San Francisco, but then Rogers’ score blew the game wide open early in the fourth.

Jets wideout Santonio Holmes caught the ball near the right boundary but appeared to injure himself on the play and fumbled in the process. Rogers alertly scooped the ball up off the turf and followed a cavalry of five teammates down the left sideline untouched for the game-changing score.

“It was a great team effort,” Willis said. “Our defense played extremely sound. There’s a couple plays in there that we wish we could get back, but for the most part we did what we needed to do to have a successful day on defense.”

The secondary started off the turnover train in the second quarter, when Dashon Goldson drilled tight end Dedrick Epps and forced a fumble that was recovered by Rogers.

Goldson’s hit was just one highlight of an impact day from San Francisco’s safeties. He also had fine one-on-one coverage of Holmes on a deep pass breakup in the first half, while Donte Whitner had a memorable, third-down tackle-for-loss of tight end Jeff Cumberland to force a second-half punt.

Following the first fumble, it was Aldon Smith’s turn to wreak havoc, as he caused a sack-fumble of Sanchez and the ball was recovered by Justin Smith. Aldon Smith sacked Sanchez again in the fourth quarter, giving him the fifth multi-sack game of his career.

Ray McDonald also had a disruptive day in the trenches and tipped a third-quarter Sanchez pass before Willis grabbed it for an interception near the line scrimmage. Added with Rogers’ touchdown and a blocked punt by the special teams unit, it was banner day for the 49ers.

The outing was especially refreshing after last week’s disappointing 24-13 loss in Minnesota. But following a week of hard work in Youngstown, Ohio, the 49ers looked like the championship-caliber defense most expect.

“It showed that we built that team camaraderie,” Whitner said of his team’s Ohio road trip. “Having a week to sit up there after that loss, having that bad taste in our mouth, it was pretty good for us. Coming out and making the statement we did today, it shows.”

Despite the dominating effort, the 49ers will keep the celebrations short. San Francisco is set to host five of its next six games at Candlestick Park, starting with Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills.

“Those things are really hard to come by,” Willis said of the shutout. “Any time you’ve got an opportunity to get one of those, you take it and you enjoy it. But, like I said, it’s humble hearts around here and we know that this was just one game in many and that we have to continue on the right track and win.”

Super Special Teams

Perhaps lost in the flood of the defensive display was the stellar work completed by the special teams unit on Sunday.

Larry “L-Train” Grant made his presence known in the fourth quarter, when he burst through from the right side of the defensive line and blocked a Robert Malone punt. Fellow linebacker and special teams ace Tavares Gooden eventually recovered the ball on the 4-yard line, before Kendall Hunter punched it in to run the score to 34-0.

“It was a great win,” Grant said. “With all the preparation we did this week, we didn’t expect it to be this way, but we’re happy with the outcome of the game.”

Throughout the course of the contest – and the eight New York punts – Grant said he noticed a weakness in the Jets punt protection that he might be able to exploit. So he voiced his opinion to his coaches and they gave him the green light.

“The good thing about these coaches is they respect the players and they trust us,” Grant said. “They gave me an opportunity and it happened.”

Punter Andy Lee showed off his All-Pro toe again, as he knocked three punts inside the New York 5-yard line. C.J. Spillman mistakenly pushed the first punted ball into the end zone, but made up for it later in the quarter by downing the ball at the 2-yard line, while Tramaine Brock also pinned the Jets deep with a downed punt.

“It’s consistency,” Grant said of Lee. “He’s been doing that ever since he’s been in the league. He’s a Pro Bowl guy, an All-Pro guy and we’re just happy to have him here with us.”

Ground and Pound

The 49ers racked up 245 yards rushing on 44 carries Sunday, marking their highest output on the ground in the Harbaugh era. It was also the most rushing yards ever posted on a Rex Ryan-coached Jets team.

San Francisco came out firing on all cylinders, racking up 88 yards on 10 first-quarter carries, and didn’t slow down throughout the game. Frank Gore led the team with 62 yards on 21 attempts, while Kendall Hunter (8 car, 56 yards) and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick (5 car, 50 yards) also eclipsed the half-century mark. Not to mention all three runners scored touchdowns.

“We wanted to come out here and start fresh,” Gore said.

In all, nine 49ers recorded positive rushing yards on the day. Kaepernick was effectively used in change-of-pace duty throughout the game, while Mario Manningham also provided a highlight with a 28-yard end around carry in the first half.

“Our coordinators do a great job,” Gore said. “They do a great job with moving us around, putting us in great situations to make plays. Whenever they put us in great situations, we made it happen.”

Big Apple Debuts

Return specialist Ted Ginn Jr., made his 2012 debut as an effective punt returner on Sunday at the Meadowlands. The sixth-year wideout racked up 40 yards on four attempts and looked explosive all afternoon.

Undrafted rookie tight end Garrett Celek made his NFL debut and appeared in select plays when the 49ers used three tight end sets.

Fourth-year player Ricky Jean Francois made his first start of the season at nose tackle after Isaac Sopoaga was deemed unfit to play after suffering an injury last week.

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