One of the big keys for the 49ers this season has been an ability to play smart football and also play aggressive football. They are not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but forcing turnovers, protecting the ball and not making stupid mental mistakes is one of the big reasons this team was 4-1 entering today's game against the Detroit Lions.
Today featured a slight detour from the norm as they struggled quite a bit in winning ugly. The mental mistakes should have cost them the game, but they were fortunate the Lions were unable to really capitalize on them. The 49ers finished the game with 15 penalties for 120 yards. They had 11 for 99 yards in the first half and I found myself shocked they were leading 12-10 at the half.
The 49ers ended up with five false start penalties. While those are not good, given the noise level in Ford Field, is it all that surprising? I realize these guys are professionals, but that is a rough atmosphere to call out plays. I don't like the false starts, but they are not entirely the end of the world. You could actually make the argument that they weren't too bad because no player had more than one. I would be more concerned in that instance.
The type of penalty that killed was Dashon Goldson's delay of game in the fourth quarter. The Lions had a 2nd and 10 at the 49ers 22 yard line. Matthew Stafford threw an incomplete pass to Brandon Pettigrew and Goldson kicked the ball out of the way, resulting in a delay of game penalty. It cut the 3rd and 10 to 3rd and 5 and the Lions converted a first down on a nine yard catch, and followed that up with the Nate Burleson touchdown. Maybe they still convert 3rd and 10, but the penalty made it that much easier.
The other intriguing note is that the 49ers finished -1 in the turnover department. They forced a Stafford fumble on a sack, but were unable to recover it. You could argue the safety is the equivalent of a turnover, so maybe in reality they were even in turnovers on the day. However, the fact that the 49ers were able to win in spite of not forcing turnovers like normal is a good thing.
We'd all love to see a couple picks and a couple fumble recoveries, but we know that is not going to happen. The 49ers defense had to man up a little longer than normal today and they responded with numerous big stops.