The surprising Detroit Lions suffered their first loss of the season, at the hands of the equally surprising San Francisco 49ers 25-19. Both teams were 6-10 last season, and both are now 5-1 and competing for playoff position. A game that last season would have been of interest only to the diehard fans of each team now looks like a potential playoff matchup in January.
The game went back and forth with five lead changes. It was so hard fought that the coaches almost got into a fight on the field after the game. An exuberant Jim Harbaugh apparently shook Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s hand “too enthusiastically” after the game, and Schwartz chased Harbaugh down to have a few words with him.
There was some pushing and shoving on the field which a few players got involved in, but cooler heads prevailed. “It was a very emotional game,” Harbaugh said afterwards. “I’m really proud of our football team. They overcame a lot.”
As for the actual game, the Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a 16-yard TD pass from QB Matt Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew. The 49ers stormed back in the second quarter behind their strong running game. The team had over 200 yards on the ground again for the second week in a row.
Frank Gore had a 47-yard run late in the first quarter to set up the 49ers first TD, and Gore punched the ball in himself from 1 yard out. He finished the day with 141 rushing yards and 1TD, with runs of 47 yards and 55 yards.
49ers rookie and first round draft pick Aldon Smith sacked Stafford in the end zone for a safety to bring the score to 10-9. Aldon had two sacks in the game, bringing his season total up to 5.5. The 49ers tacked on a field goal at the end of the first half to take the lead 12-10 at halftime.
The teams traded field goals in the third, and then Stafford connected with Nate Burleson from 5 yards out to take the lead 19-15 early in the fourth. Stafford played well, completing 28 of 50 passes for 293 yards with 2 TDs. Calvin Johnson was effective, catching 7 balls for 113 yards but was held out of the end zone for the first time this year.
On Johnson, Stafford said, “He did his part always. They did a good job of trying to take him away.”
And on the game in general, Stafford said, “They’re a good football team. San Fran’s got a great defense. They did a great job stopping the run and getting after the passer.”
“[They] did what they’ve been doing all season. Did a great job in the red zone and held us out of some touchdowns.”
The 49ers answered by marching down the field and scored the winning touchdown on a 6 yard pass from Alex Smith to Delanie Walker, in what was probably Smith’s best pass of the day.
Alex Smith was effective throwing the ball, although he didn’t put up huge numbers. He was 17 of 32 for 125 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. “We made the plays when we needed to,” Smith said, “but there’s a lot of room for improvement for us.”
“That’s the NFL for you,” said 49ers safety Donte Whitner, who finished the game with six tackles. “Especially when you have two good teams playing, it’s going to be a roller coaster. It’s about who hangs on the longest.”
“We just have to keep taking small steps,” Gore said after the game. “We have to believe in ourselves and our coaches.”
The 49ers are heading into their bye week, which Harbaugh calls, “Improvement Week,” after which they will face the Cleveland Browns.
The Lions will face the Atlanta Falcons next weekend.
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