By Jerrell Richardson
Riding high after last week’s road victory over the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco welcomed the Detroit Lions to Candlestick Sunday. The Lions proved their mettle by sticking around and giving the 49ers all they could handle, but in the end it was another dominant performance for Jim Harbaugh’s squad. San Francisco never trailed and outplayed their NFC North opponent in every aspect of the game, earning a 27-19 victory. On a side note, the post-game handshake was very uneventful.
Alex Smith extended his streak to 216 consecutive passes without throwing an interception, and finished the day 20-for-31 with 226 yards and two touchdowns. As has become his staple, he took what was given to him, avoiding any mistake that would put his team in a bad position. He showed his continued growth as a play caller as well, due in large part to his familiarity with the offense. His in-game audibles led to big plays, most noticeably on the team’s opening touchdown drive in which he changed the formation to isolate tight end Vernon Davis against a safety, resulting in an easy pitch and catch. On San Francisco’s final score, Smith made the right choice and a perfect throw on a run or pass option, floating a pass to Davis for his second touchdown of the game, and what, at the time, appeared to be the final knockout blow.
Smith did hold onto the ball too long on a few instances, once resulting in a sack that knocked them out of field goal range at the end of the first half, but when facing a front like the Lions, it’s expected to allow a few sacks. Smith added another chapter to his 49er legacy after suffering a hit in the fourth quarter that resulted in blood streaming off the bridge of his nose. He picked himself up, didn’t bother to wipe the blood away, and led his team to a touchdown and victory. Grade: A-
The offense was hot and cold as a unit. After opening the game with a four-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, it appeared as though Detroit was going to be in for a long day. However, the Lions buckled down on defense and did a good job of limiting the scoring opportunities for the 49ers. Randy Moss and Mario Mannigham both made their presence felt, but once again, it was Michael Crabtree that stepped up and made the crucial plays. Crabtree finished the day with six receptions for 67 yards and had three receptions (all on third down) on the fourth quarter scoring drive that put the game out of reach. Frank Gore did not have the numbers from Week One, but had a very good day on the ground, and with the occasional spell from Kendall Hunter, the team rushed for 148 total yards. What was lacking, though, was the big play, which was the downfall of the team last year. One or two more big plays and the game would have been out of reach as Detroit was never able to reach the end zone until 1:29 left in the game. Grade: B
San Francisco’s defense had one mission on Sunday and at that was to make sure that Calvin Johnson did not beat them. With a variety of coverages, the 49ers were able to take him out of the game for the most part, but the star receiver was still able to finish the game with eight catches for 94 yards. Most of these looks, though, were short passes and late in the game when San Francisco was conceding the underneath pass. Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford finished with 230 yards passing, but like Johnson, he cashed in late against a prevent defense. Detroit did have limited success on the ground with Kevin Smith, which was a surprise, but due to the neutralizing of Johnson and the passing game, it was not nearly enough to earn the victory. The 49ers’ defense did allow the Lions to hang around though, never delivering the knockout punch to give the home fans a minute to relax. Grade: B+
On a team with such a dominant defense, the special teams with David Akers and Andy Lee is often overlooked. However, the two have been just as special and even more consistent then the defensive unit, which grabs all the headlines. Clinging to a eight-point lead, David Akers booted a 48-yard field goal in the swirling winds of Candlestick, giving the 49ers some much needed breathing room. He also made a 36-yard kick earlier, which is pretty impressive considering the less-than-ideal kicking situations at Candlestick. Andy Lee did not have to test out his hand with three punts averaging 36.3 per kick.
Kendall Hunter was out of place in the return game with a fumble on his first kickoff return, and had another return that was well short of the 20. Ironically, on the Lions last ditch effort, it was last year’s goat Kyle Williams who sealed the game with the onside recovery, and it’s Williams who should be considered to take over the entire return duties as he appears more suited in the role and more knowledgeable. Grade: A-
As the goal is to win, its hard to find much fault with San Francisco’s performance. There were areas to improve, but at the end of the game, all aspects of the team contributed in some way to this victory. As has been the blueprint for the past year, they have played well collectively as a group and the result was another victory. Moving forward, they will want to continue to develop the offense and eventually introduce the big play threat into their offense to completely round out a team quickly becoming the most complete team in the NFL.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.