For 58 minutes, a Detroit Lion didn’t cross the goal line.
But when tight end Brandon Pettigrew finally did score on a 9-yard pass from Matthew Stafford, it was simply too little too late.
On a Sunday when every team representing the NFC West was victorious, the 49ers tamed the dangerous Detroit Lions, mauling them 27-19 at Candlestick Park in front of a national TV audience.
And though physical throughout, it wasn’t that close.
“The team really sucked it up down the stretch,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And probably the guy who typified it the most was Michael Crabtree.”
Facing a possible punting situation with a 20-12 lead with less than four minutes left in regulation, Alex Smith on third down from the Niners 24-yard line connected with wideout Crabtree for a 7-yard gain. And though that kept the drive alive, Vernon Davis, who started the game with a score, likewise finished it with one.
“I’m extremely happy for Alex,” Davis said. “He made a lot of plays for us.”
“I felt just during the game — and at the end of the game — that this was one of Alex’s better or best performances,” Harbaugh said. “He had a great night putting the ball on the money and getting it into the hands of our guys.”
Smith completed 20 of 31 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s as tough as a $2 steak,” Harbaugh said. “I grew up eating a lot of ’em. I know what I’m talking about.”
After forcing a Lions three-and-out on their initial possession, San Francisco took advantage of a largely second-string Detroit secondary. Starting cornerbacks Chris Houston and Bill Bentley were sidelined due to injury, as was free safety Louis Delmas. Safety Erik Coleman was the Lions lone first-stinger.
And it showed.
It took Smith all of 72 seconds to put together a four-play, 67-yard drive that culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Davis for a 7-0 advantage.
Running back Frank Gore added his own score on 1-yard run in the second quarter, a TD set up after a roughing the kicker penalty against Detroit as David Akers went for a field goal.
And despite the Niner defense showing very little blitz throughout, San Francisco limited Detroit to four field goal, until the fourth quarter.
“The defense did an outstanding job just helping us,” Davis said. He was right. Calvin Johnson, despite being one of the most feared receivers in the league, was limited to eight catches for 94 yards and kept out of the end zone.
San Francisco improved to 2-0, while the Lions drop to 1-1. It was the first game since Harbaugh shared his secret story of former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali with his players. It was a story that Davis didn’t remember all that well. But he recalled the gist.
“Just being a winner.” Davis said of Ali. “Just grinding each and every day and preparing yourself to be great. Just like Muhammad was.”