DETROIT - The 49ers hit the previously unbeaten Lions with a big right cross - both during and immediately after Sunday's game. San Francisco's last-minute 25-19 win sends them into their bye week with a 5-1 record, their best start since 1998.
But after the game, the story was a near tussle between the two head coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz, who had to be separated by players, security and public relations officials following one of the most aggressive handshakes in recent memory. Harbaugh, who had several memorable post-game encounters while at Stanford, accepted the blame for what he called, "kind of a slap-grab handshake."
"I was just really revved up, and it's totally on me," Harbaugh said. "I shook his hand too hard." As he ran onto the field, Harbaugh celebrated with his players, untucked his sweatshirt from his khakis as he's done in recent games and then, still moving, came upon Schwartz. He pressed his right hand into Schwartz's, then gave the Lions coach a thwack on the lower back with his left hand.
Schwartz also said Harbaugh yelled an expletive in his ear. "I went to congratulate Coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way," Schwartz said. "I didn't expect an obscenity at that point, so it was a surprise to me at the end of the game. ... Obviously when you win a game like that, you're excited and things like that, but I think there's a protocol that goes with this league."
Schwartz then pursued Harbaugh and bumped him - "Felt like a chest bump there," Harbaugh said - that sparked a standoff between 49ers and Lions players outside the tunnel that leads from the field into the locker rooms. Tackles Alex Boone, Anthony Davis and tight end Vernon Davis were some of the players keeping the hyper-animated Schwartz at bay.
In the locker room after the incident, a still-fired up Harbaugh went up to some of his offensive linemen as they dressed, shook their hands and shouted, "You guys were bailing me out. Good job."
As was the case in previous road victories in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, the 49ers went down early but began to overpower their opponent as the game wore on. There were six lead changes Sunday. The 49ers took over for good late in the fourth quarter after a 40-yard punt return by Ted Ginn gave San Francisco possession at the Detroit 35 yard line.
At that point, Harbaugh sent in his jumbo package, which includes extra offensive linemen as well as 335-pound nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga at fullback, and started working the right side of the Detroit defense. Runs by Frank Gore, who topped 100 rushing yards for the third straight game, and Kendall Hunter brought the ball to the Detroit 7-yard line with a little more than two minutes left.
At that point, the drive began to stall. Gore was dropped for a three-yard loss. A pass from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree gave the 49ers four yards. But Smith was harried on third down and his throw was incomplete.
That brought fourth down and the Detroit crowd rose to its feet. The noise inside Ford Field had prompted 49ers miscues - including five false starts - throughout the afternoon.
"It was the loudest place I've ever played in in my life," said tackle Joe Staley, who had one of the false starts.
The din reached a deafening crescendo on the fourth-down play, a pass designed to go to the right to tight end Delanie Walker, who had bobbled a would-be touchdown earlier in the game. "I knew I had to make up for the one I had in the end zone," Walker said. "Once he called that play and I saw the defensive front, I knew it was coming to me, and I knew I had to make a play."
Walker did that, catching Smith's throw on a slant pattern and then crashing into the end zone just before his right knee hit the turf. The 49ers scored once more on David Akers' third field goal of the day after the Lions turned the ball over on downs.
A team that in recent years couldn't win on the road, much less in the eastern time zone, has won all three of road games this year, all of them in the east and all of them come-from-behind wins.
Said Harbaugh: "I feel like something special is brewing here."
-- Matt Barrows