Rapid Reaction: 49ers 27, Lions 19
September, 16, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 27-19 victory over the Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park on Sunday night:
What it means: The 49ers are 2-0 and own victories over potential rivals in the NFC playoff seeding race. They are the only NFC playoff team from last season with a 2-0 record to open 2012 (Atlanta has a chance to join the 49ers with a victory over Denver on Monday night). The 49ers again proved their ability to beat a playoff team without functioning well consistently. They did it at Detroit last season and at home against the Lions in this game. Strength on defense (for most of the game) and in the running game provided the 49ers with a capable insurance policy. Alex Smith and the offense showed up in the clutch, continuing a trend from last season.
What I liked: The fast start on offense. The 49ers caught the Lions off guard, it appeared, on their second offensive play when they flipped the ball to Mario Manningham for a 29-yard gain on an end-around. That sparked the 49ers' offense and led to a 21-yard scoring pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis. San Francisco couldn't have started any better offensively. Last year, the 49ers opened their game at Detroit in an empty set, inviting pressure and conceding a sack/fumble. They opened in an empty set this time, as well, but the Lions didn't get any pressure.
San Francisco went after safety John Wendling, who was subbing for the injured Louis Delmas, on the touchdown to Davis. That was smart and it worked beautifully. Davis was wide open and running toward the end zone uncontested.
Frank Gore's fresh legs stood out. His quickness and power gave the Lions problems. The way San Francisco blocks down the field, including at the receiver position, makes Gore even more dangerous. Gore returned the favor with an effective block to help spring Michael Crabtree for a first down on a third-and-long when the 49ers were trying to run time off the clock with a 20-12 lead. Crabtree converted a third-and-9 later in the drive.
The 49ers put together a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive -- Smith to Davis, again -- to put away the game in the fourth quarter. That drive atoned for some of the sloppiness that crept into the 49ers' game for stretches. The 49ers are a good team in the clutch. They showed it again.
What I didn’t like: Hunter lost a fumble during a first-quarter kickoff return, setting up the Lions for a 33-yard field goal. The 49ers had gone nine full regular-season games without losing a fumble. They had gone 26 regular-season quarters without suffering a turnover of any kind. Their last one had been against Baltimore on Thanksgiving.
The 49ers suffered a couple of third-down miscues. That included an aborted play after a snap from center Jonathan Goodwin flew past Smith. Another time, Crabtree could not handle a hard, low pass -- not a blatant drop, but a play unbecoming of the player with the best hands Jim Harbaugh has seen. That type of play has been the exception for Crabtree, who continues to play well overall.
The replacement officials struggled. They initially missed Aldon Smith's sack on Matthew Stafford, allowing Ahmad Brooks to get a second shot at the Lions' quarterback. Lions coach Jim Schwartz issued a replay challenge to save his team yardage, setting up a field goal try. No coach should have to challenge a sack against his own quarterback at a time when the NFL is emphasizing player safety. That was one of at least two plays when officials appeared out of position and unable to maintain vision of a play. Another time, officials missed potential pass interference.
Bruce Miller, Delanie Walker and Manningham dropped passes during an ugly drive early in the fourth quarter. Manningham's wasn't a drop in the purest sense. He appeared to short-arm a ball over the middle.
The 49ers' defense, so strong most of the time, seemed to relent late in the game. The Lions drove for a touchdown with 1:29 remaining to pull within 27-19. The Lions gained big chunks of yardage during the drive.
West milestone: All four NFC West teams won Sunday. That's the second time Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona have won in the same week since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. All four won in Week 10 last season.
Northern dominance: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh now has a 3-0 record against NFC North teams. He can make it 4-0 with a victory over Minnesota next week.
QB streak: Smith extended his franchise-record streak of pass attempts without an interception. He also entered Week 2 with the NFL's highest completion percentage. Smith played well enough to complete a high percentage in this game, but he needed more help from his receivers in this game. In addition to the drops listed above, Hunter also let one go through his grasp.
Limited role for Moss: Randy Moss drew an interference penalty in the end zone to set up one 49ers touchdown. He played sparingly, however. The 49ers didn't really need him. Perhaps they're saving him. Age is a factor for Moss. The 49ers want to keep him fresh.
What's next: The 49ers visit Minnesota in Week 3.