There's a reason why they call him "The Hawk." It seems a game can't go by without Dashon Goldson making a ball-hawking, game-changing play. On Sunday, the fifth-year safety made a key, first-quarter interception, setting the tone for the 49ers' 19-11 road win against the Washington Redskins.
Goldson was hardly the only safety getting into the action at the nation's capital, as Donte Whitner also recorded a fumble recovery to set up a 49ers touchdown right before half time. Consider the 49ers broke up six more passes to maintain their league lead in the category, and you might be looking at one of the league's most underrated secondaries.
"We needed those plays," Whitner said. "They were driving. Any time you can get a turnover to put the offense in position to score is big."
Despite their impressive performance, Whitner and the 49ers left Washington with much to be desired.
"I just wish Chris Culliver would have blocked an offensive lineman and let me take it to the house," Whitner said with a laugh.
No worries, as the 49ers would be romping in the end zone on the next play. Following Whitner's fumble recovery, the result of a jarring blow by Joe Staley, rookie fullback Bruce Miller hauled in a 30-yard touchdown catch to give the 49ers a 13-0 lead.
It was all the offense they would need.
The Redskins would score a field goal to close out the first half and add a last-minute touchdown, but it was too little, too late. The way the 49ers were flying all over the field, quarterback John Beck and the Redskins offense didn't have much of a chance.
"Consummate team guys the way they're playing," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of his defense. "They're not looking for the statistics and the tackles, the interceptions, the sacks. … They're doing the unselfish little things."
The 49ers created three turnovers on the day, including Goldson's diving interception, which set up a 52-yard field goal from David Akers. In all, the 49ers tote a plus-12 turnover differential this season, the NFL's second-best mark behind the Detroit Lions (plus-13).
The turnover margin received some padding on Sunday, thanks in large part to Willis. There's a reason why he's been named to four straight Pro Bowls.
Willis was a one-man wrecking crew against the Redskins, racking up a game-high 13 tackles and forcing two fumbles. His second forced fumble came in the fourth quarter and was recovered by his partner in crime, NaVorro Bowman, keeping the Redskins at bay.
While some are anointing Willis and Bowman as the NFL's best tandem of inside linebackers, they're not buying the hype just yet.
"We still got a lot of work to do," Bowman said. "Me and Pat aren't guys who are going to get complacent. … We have a lot of success going right now, but once you pride yourself on that success you slip and forget to do the things that got you there. We don't want to do that."
Even without starting defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury, the 49ers front seven didn't miss a beat. Pierre Garçon made his second start this season, filling in for McDonald on the left side of the defensive line, helping the 49ers limit the Redskins to just 52 rushing yards.
Washington rookie running back Roy Helu rattled off a 16-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, but it was biggest ground gain the Redskins would have all day. The 49ers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 30 games, and are still yet to give up a rushing touchdown all year. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit also leads the NFL in allowing just 14.8 points per game.
With the victory, the 49ers moved to 4-0 on the road, with all four contests taking place in the Eastern time zone.
"We feel like we can play with pretty much anybody," Bowman said. "We have to prove that when we come out here on the East Coast and I think we did that today."
Notes and Quotes
Following a stellar October which featured four straight performances of at least 125 yards and a touchdown, Frank Gore became the first player in 49ers history to rush for 100 yards in five straight games. The seventh-year running back carried the ball 19 times for 107 yards, giving him 782 for the year, the third-highest total in the NFL.
"I'm just focused on winning right now," Gore said. "It's a blessing. I'm very happy to be in this situation to be 7-1. I still think as an offense we didn't hit our stride where we can go, but that's a great threat for us."
Gore even shared the backfield with a pair of rookies for a couple of plays in Sunday's game, joining Miller and rookie running back Kendall Hunter for select packages.
Miller, who was a defensive end in college, notched his first career NFL touchdown, but said he lost the ball after celebrating with his teammates.
"I got the first one out of the way," Miller said. "Hopefully there's more to come."
Akers went a perfect 4-of-4 on the afternoon to move his season mark to 19-of-21. Akers has made all four of his attempts from 50 or more yards, becoming the first 49ers kicker to achieve the feat.
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks recorded his fifth sack of the year in the third quarter, marking the first time in his six-year career that he's notched a sack in three straight games.