We continue our 2011 season recap at Niners Nation with a dynamite Week 6 match up between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions. San Francisco went on the road to Ford Field where the notable starters were Adam Snyder, Donte Whitner and Bruce Miller. Ted Ginn Jr. was also starting in place of Josh Morgan who had a season-ending injury the week before against Tampa Bay.
49ers won the toss and deferred again - definitely revealing it to be part of their team strategy.
On the first two Lions offensive plays, Ahmad Brooks tackled Jahvid Best - the first time in the flat for a loss and the second time stuffing him at the line of scrimmage. The Lions went three-and-out on their first possession after Matthew Stafford was flushed out by Justin Smith to force the incompletion.
With Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn Jr. starting at wide receiver, the 49ers first offensive play resulted in a strip sack by Kyle Vanden Bosch. Vanden Bosch bulled Joe Staley backwards, and reached in to strip the ball from Smith's hands, taking it away.
Aldon Smith was in early, getting pressure on Stafford but it got him a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, which was directly followed by a neutral zone infraction call. With the Lions in the red zone, Stafford went to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but a great play by Patrick Willis to extend and get his arm where Pettigrew was reaching for the ball, broke up the pass and potential touchdown.
A subsequent incompletion forced the Lions to settle for a field goal from Jason Hanson to take a 3-0 lead over San Francisco. It didn't take long for the false starts to begin; Delanie Walker and Anthony Davis were called for them on the Niners' second possession to put them in a 1st and 20 situation. The noise level was outrageous.
After Ginn dropped a pass that was slightly high and Gore got a couple of touches that went nowhere, the 49ers punted for the first time that game. The Lions followed with a three-and-out but the 49ers already had 4 penalties on the day; two on offense and two on defense.
The 49ers offense tried to chip away at a solid Lions defense with runs and short passes. Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Michael Crabtree were getting involved early but only for short gains. An incompletion to Ginn on a broken play forced another 49ers punt.
Jahvid Best finally broke loose with a 13-yard run for a first down on 2nd and 4. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson got his first catch of the day on a crossing route from Stafford that went for another Lions first down. On a completion to Pettigrew, it was clear that Stafford was trying to get the ball out quicker and it was working.
A pretty sizable pass interference call on Carlos Rogers defending Nate Burleson moved the Lions into 49ers territory. And before long, Stafford completed a throw to Brandon Pettigrew for a Lions touchdown to make the score 10-0 Detroit.
Jim Harbaugh challenged the touchdown and received a penalty for challenging and unchallengeable play, with opposing head coach Jim Schwartz mocking him from across the sideline.
Nick Fairley checked in for Detroit on defense in place of defensive tackle Corey Williams. Crabtree made a reception at the line of scrimmage and took it for a 5-yard gain. Gore got his best run of the day at that point on a 14-yarder that moved the chains for San Francisco. There was a pretty even distribution of carries between Gore and Hunter, keeping both fresh.
Bruce Miller got his second false start of the game.
Crabtree made another short grab from Smith on the right sideline but danced too much after making catch. He needs to secure the catch and immediately cut up field, but it's not his style and it's become a bad habit. Soon after, Smith completed it to Vernon Davis for a first down, moving the ball down field.
With Gore back in, Delanie Walker went in motion, Goodwin snapped the ball, Smith handed to Gore, Walker whacked Ndamukong Suh and Gore broke through for 46-yards inside the Lions 2.
The 49ers lined up in a heavy goal line set with split backs, and Gore took the handoff from the 1 for a touchdown. This score capped off an 8-play, 80-yard drive from the 49ers to make the game 10-7.
The Lions continued to run unsuccessfully as Justin Smith stuffed Best at the line. Detroit wanted to throw on San Francisco, but the 49ers were able to come out with their pass rush group and get pressure on Stafford.
And the 49ers defense was limiting Calvin Johnson, who had no backbreaking plays or catches. Stafford was also very inconsistent during the game. A couple plays later, Ahmad Brooks had a clean lane off the edge and sacked Stafford who curled up underneath Brooks.
Back on offense, Michael Crabtree made his fifth catch of the game, working the underneath routes to move the chains and trying for yards after catch. Crabtree then had a drop where he simply did not locate the ball well on a good pass from Smith. Add a Joe Staley false start and the 49ers had to punt again.
Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald took down Matthew Stafford for a safety on a simple four man rush. Smith blew past the left tackle and got a piece of Stafford with McDonald closing from the opposite side. Stafford attempted to throw the ball away when he was in the end zone, which would be an intentional grounding resulting in a safety.
With that defensive play, the 49ers would close the Detroit lead to one point at 10-9.Ted Ginn Jr. had a big return off the free kick, bringing it into Lions territory. Some extra effort from Anthony Davis helped push the pile a few more yards just shy of a first down.
49ers and Lions players began to get short with one another already, with pushing and shoving mostly going on between the 49ers o-line and Lions d-line.
The play before the punt was an extremely athletic play by Alex Smith, who scrambled out of the pocket, evaded multiple blitzers and fell forward for a short gain without turning the football over. Still, the 49ers had to punt, making it Andy Lee's 5th of the game.
Stafford fired a completion to Titus Young for a first down, that was almost picked off by Ahmad Brooks. Rookie Aldon Smith saw significant time and even dropped back into coverage a couple times. On one occasion, Smith dropped a potential interception that went right through his hands.
NaVorro Bowman was mainly responsible for Jahvid Best, while Willis was dealing with Pettigrew and pass coverage assignments. Whitner came up and took out Pettigrew at the line, finishing a strong instinctual tackle, turning Pettigrew over.
Hanson missed a 52-yard field goal for Detroit before halftime, which gave San Francisco good field position. Early on the drive, Smith hit Ginn for a gain to move the chains. And another short throw to Ginn got the 49ers even closer. David Akers came in and hit a long 55-yard field goal to take the lead on the final play of the first half.
The 49ers went into the locker room at halftime with a 12-10 lead on the road.
Stafford was getting hit right off the bat in the third quarter, even though he was still completing some passes. He connected on a 21-yard pass play to running back Javhid Best, which moved the chains for Detroit. Best then broke off a long run off a bubble screen, downed at 49ers 6-yard line for a 32-yard gain.
But no matter how close to the end zone, the 49ers defense remained stingy in the red zone. Patrick Willis broke up a second pass attempt to Pettigrew in the end zone, stopping the potential touchdown. And with Justin Smith commanding the trenches the 49ers forced another field goal - Detroit took a 13-12 lead over the visiting Niners.
It was a stalemate for much of the game, until all of sudden, the 49ers ripped off another one on the ground. It was the same play that Gore busted free on in the first half; a short wham which sprung him loose 55-yards down Detroit's right sideline. A horse collar call was tacked on, adding 15-yards to the end of the run and putting the 49ers at the Detroit 14.
Michael Crabtree had a near touchdown when he caught the ball on the left sideline, but tapped the same foot twice. Even though Crabtree had stayed in bounds and extended for the pylon, it was ruled incomplete because both feet did not touch the ground.
The 49ers settled for another David Akers field goal to make it 15-13 SF.
One on one with Tarell Brow, Calvin Johnson makes his 4th catch for 23-yards, with Dashon Goldson having to come up to make the tackle. Chris Culliver had a fair amount of reps one on one with Calvin Johnson, but was still taking away the wide receiver.
Smith fired down field for a 27-yard connection to Michael Crabtree in a soft spot in the middle of the Detroit secondary. Crabtree made a leaping catch, using his big strong hands to bring the ball into his body. However on a 3rd and 10, Smith was sacked by Stephen Tulloch, which forced a 49ers punt.
On defense, Justin Smith bulled left tackle Jeff Backus backward and clobbered Stafford for a sack. With Detroit backed up to their own end zone, the Lions had to punt. The 49ers couldn't capitalize on the possession; Smith overthrew Crabtree that was picked off by Amare Spievey.
Detroit's offense came out with Maurice Morris now in at running back, with Best sidelined with a concussion.
Patrick Willis made another great pass breakup, instinctually disrupting any flow between Pettigrew and Stafford. But the game was tight because the Niners were so heavily penalized; 14 penalties for 115 yards by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Calvin Johnson made his 5th catch of the day for another Lions first down. In striking distance, Stafford delivered one to Burleson for a touchdown to make it 19-15. The Lions went for the two-point conversion but the throw went incomplete.
Smith, who was hit as he threw it, completed to Crabtree in a tiny window for a first down, displaying his toughness in pocket. Following that play, an end around to Ginn went for a 49ers first down, with the help of Alex Smith throwing a block with his shoulder.
But a catch by Crabtree goes short of the first down, forcing another punt for San Francisco.
Calvin Johnson made his biggest catch of the day, taking a 40-yard pass play to midfield. Best checked back in at running back, the 49ers forced the Lions to punt. Smith once again overthrew Crabtree on first down, but another end around to Ginn went for 9 yards.
Unfortunately, linebacker Lawrence Jackson stuffed Kendall Hunter to force the 4th down and punt by the Niners - Lee's 9th of the game.
Aldon Smith sacked Stafford again, forcing a fumble this time that was recovered by Detroit. The play went for a loss of 18 and eventually led to Detroit having to punt. Ginn returned it across midfield into Detroit territory to the 36-yard line; a clutch return by the specialist.
With 5:29 remaining in the game and San Francisco down 4, it was go-time for the Niners offense. The 49ers went with a balanced running attack, that starting with a Kendall Hunter 9-yard run on first down. Gore checked in and rushed for a fresh set of downs. The 49ers went back to the wham block again and it sprung Hunter for a decent gain on first down.
Gore rushed for a first down and more, until he was downed at the Detroit 6. Gore was then stuffed by Corey Williams for a loss of three yard, but Crabtree got it back on the following play.
After the two-minute warning, on 4th down with 1:56 left in the game, the Niners offense stepped to the line of scrimmage. With Michael Crabtree and Delanie Walker lined up to the right of Smith, Crabtree ran a fade, with Walker running a slant underneath to the open area - Smith delivered the ball in between the numbers and Walker secured the catch and fell into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
The 49ers took a 22-19 lead, but the Lions were only down 3, had 3 timeouts left and almost two minutes left. Out on defense, the 49ers kept everything in front of them, forcing short passes or incompletions. On a 4th and 5 for Lions, a pass intended for Burleson went incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs but almost picked by Carlos Rogers.
The Lions got the ball once more after the David Akers field goal made it 25-19. On their last effort Stafford was pancaked between Ray McDonald and Justin Smith. And on 4th and 10 with 6 seconds left, Stafford completed it to Calvin Johnson, who pitched it back to a teammate who was immediately tackled.
The 49ers overcame a knockdown, drag out fight on the road against a formerly unbeaten team to win 25-19. This game was an instant classic, and maybe the best of the season.
Then both coaches shook hands and went their separate ways...nothing else happened after that. Seriously, nothing.
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