DETROIT - Vic Fangio has been coaching defense since 1979. So when the 49ers defensive coordinator says that Sunday's defensive performance was the best he's been a part of, it's a statement more than three decades in the making.
"I told our players that at halftime also." Fangio said. "We just kept on going out there and stopping them for the most part -- on the road, in this building, with the firepower that they have on their offense."
That Detroit firepower accounted for 314 yards of offense, including 113 receiving yards by wideout Calvin Johnson. But the 49ers stiffened the closer the Lions got to the goal line and held Johnson, who entered the game with a league-leading nine touchdowns, out of the end zone for the first time this season.
Two rookies had big roles in the game. Johnson was matched against each of the 49ers cornerbacks at various times, including rookie Chris Culliver, the team's No. 3 cornerback who ended up playing most of the game. Culliver, a former safety at South Carolina, is the biggest of the 49ers cornerbacks, and he often was asked to play press coverage against the 6-5, 236-pound Johnson and alter the receiver's routes. "Once we re-routed him ... that just gives the defensive line a chance to eat and to get that rush on him," Culliver said.
Those linemen indeed had their fill, sacking Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been sacked six times heading into Sunday's game, five more times. Two of the sacks were turned in by reigning rookie of the week Aldon Smith, who sacked Stafford for a safety in the second quarter. The safety was the 49ers' first since 2003.
Smith had been part of the 49ers' nickel packages early in the season, entering the games on third downs as a defensive end. With the Lions using three and four receivers for most of the afternoon, Smith promised to be active throughout the game. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson, however, injured his hamstring in the first half, giving Smith even more snaps, including the most he's seen at outside linebacker this season. The 49ers have only three outside linebackers on their roster.
In addition to his team-leading 5 ½ sacks on the season, Smith also had a chance at his first interception on a quick throw by Stafford. The ball, however, hit him in the gut and fell to the ground. "I got a little more comfortable as the game went on," Smith said while noting that he is not fully accustomed to dropping into coverage. "You saw me drop that pick."
Starting right guard Adam Snyder had a good game against Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh, who finished with two tackles and was held without a sack. Snyder, however, left the game late with a shoulder stinger and was replaced by Chilo Rachal.
The 49ers held Detroit running back Jahvid Best to 37 rushing yards. That means the 49ers have gone 28 straight games without allowing an opposing rusher to finish with 100 or more yards.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman led all tacklers with 14 stops. At game's end, Bowman was currently tied for fourth in the NFL in total tackles.
-- Matt Barrows