With consistent pressure from its front seven and reliable coverage from the entire secondary on the back end, the San Francisco 49ers defensive unit gave Jon Kitna and the Detroit Lions all kinds of trouble Sunday afternoon, beating their visiting counterparts 31-13 at Candlestick Park.
Kitna, one of the National Football League's most accomplished passers last season, was harassed throughout the game by the 49ers defense. He finished the game 15 of 30 for 146 yards, throwing one touchdown and an interception for a dismal quarterback rating of 61.3
Kitna's limited throwing production also translated to the Lions talented receivers in Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams. Johnson, who had posted 100-yard receiving days the last two weeks, was held in check to 40 yards, while Williams finished with 48.
"We knew coming into this game that they were going to come out and try to pass the ball against us," 49ers strong safety Michael Lewis said after the game. "Our front seven did a great job of getting pressure on Kitna and the secondary did a great job covering their receivers. It was a great combined effort by the whole defense."
From the very start of the game, Kitna had trouble against the 49ers pass rush. During the Lions second series, 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith sacked Kitna on a third and six from the Detroit 14-yard line, forcing a fumble in the process.
The Lions recovered the ball, but it set a dominant defensive tone for the rest of the game.
"We wanted to get after him and I think everybody responded to that," Smith said.
In addition to Smith's sack, the 49ers dropped Kitna three more times on the day. Outside linebacker Rod Green tallied two sacks, while the 49ers other pass-rushing specialist outside linebacker, Parys Haralson, picked up a sack of his own.
With the 49ers constantly supplying pressure on Kitna in the first half, the Lions struggled offensively, only mustering three points and four first downs.
"We knew going in to the game that Kitna was one of those scrambling guys, who finds ways to make plays," 49ers cornerback Walt Harris said. "Our guys up front kept coming, giving them havoc, which made our job a lot easier on the back end."
Coming out of the locker room down 21-3, the Lions began marching on their opening drive as Kitna completed a couple of passes. But as soon as the Lions appeared to have things rolling on offense, 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown intercepted Kitna's pass intended for wide receiver Mike Furrey, putting a halt to Detroit's comeback bid.
Brown's first career interception was especially important because it came in arguably his most important game as a member of the 49ers.
With third cornerback Shawntae Spencer out of action with a knee injury, the 49ers coaching staff was depending heavily on Brown to do a solid job covering the Lions talented group of receivers.
Brown did just that.
"T. Brown did an excellent job today," 49ers cornerback Nate Clements said. "He got a pick in a crucial situation. When guys get injured, anybody backing up has to come in and step up. All in all, guys just stepped up and made plays today."
Proper preparation and being in the right place at the right time helped Brown make the interception.
"It felt good to get the first interception of my career," Brown said. "We've been studying hard on film and we saw everything that we thought we were going to see. I just happened to get in front of the receiver and make a play."
The 49ers controlled the second half much like they did the first. However, a defensive lapse in the fourth quarter was the only major blemish for the unit.
With seven minutes and change left in the game, Kitna threw his only touchdown of the game on a 34-yard screen pass to running back Rudi Johnson, marking the longest Lions' play from scrimmage on the afternoon.
"Collectively, we did what we had to do," Clements said. "One of our goals was to hold them down to a minimum of passing yards, other than that big play they had, we pretty much had control over the game."
Later in the fourth quarter after a Haralson sack that knocked Kitna out of the game, the 49ers defense came up with another big stop. Smith picked off the following Dan Orlovsky's screen pass to Rudi Johnson with one hand.
"It was a chuck-block screen, I saw the running back move over for the pass and it was one of those deals where the ball just kind of fell in there," Smith said. "Being tired helped, I was pretty tired there. The ball came to me and I just went to the ground."
After picking off two passes and shutting down the Detroit offensive attack, the 49ers defense gained some confidence. They will head to New Orleans next week looking to build off their exceptional performance against Kitna and the Lions.
"We take things one week at a time," Harris said. "Our next focus is New Orleans. We don't want to focus on anything but one game at a time, one win at a time."