SAN FRANCISCO -- Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz cordially shook hands, smiled and offered each other sweet-natured "good games" before Sunday's contest. After that, their teams gouged eyes, bloodied noses, twisted face masks and went after each other with as much venom and ferocity as they did in their 2011 matchup.
Like last year, the 49ers showed they were made of tougher stuff. This time they also proved they have more weapons than the Lions as Frank Gore rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown and Alex Smith hit seven different receivers in the 27-19 win.
The 49ers defense, meanwhile, didn't allow the Lions inside their 20-yard line until 1:45 remained. "We knew it would be a tough, close, aggressive, bell-ringing game, and it was," coach Jim Harbaugh said afterward.
While last week's win in Green Bay was marked by methodical marches downfield, Smith and the offense on Sunday wasted no time attacking a Detroit defense that was missing three members of its starting secondary.
On the second play of their opening possession, the 49ers gained 29 yards on a misdirection run by Mario Manningham. On the next, Smith connected with Michael Crabtree for 17 yards. And on the play after that, he spotted tight end Vernon Davis with a step on safety John Wendling, who was filling in for injured starter Louis Delmas. Smith hit Davis for a 21-yard touchdown - their 28th all-time touchdown connection -- capping a four-play drive that lasted just 72 seconds.
Ever careful with the ball, Smith stretched his streak of pass attempts without an interception to 216 attempts. He finished with 226 passing yards, a 107.7 passer rating and an ugly gash across the bridge of his nose, which he got when a Lions defender gave him a forearm to the head as the quarterback slid to the ground late in the game.
That wound came during the 49ers' most grinding, methodical and impressive drive of the game.
After Jason Hanson's fourth field goal had cut San Francisco's lead to eight, the 49ers took over with 9:16 remaining. Three times, Smith faced third-and-long scenarios, and three times he hit Crabtree, who fought for the first down on each opportunity, including a 16-yard gain on 3rd and 14. Two plays after a Crabtree catch brought the 49ers to the Detroit 35-yard line, Smith found Davis again, this time on a 23-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 3:04 remaining that put the game away for good.
Harbaugh said that Crabtree, perhaps more than any other player, symbolized the hard-fought game the team played. Said Crabtree. "I felt bad. On one third down (early in the game) I dropped a pass and felt I needed to redeem myself."
Crabtree finished with six catches for 67 yards; Davis had five catches for 73 yards, including the two touchdowns.
As was the case last year, the 49ers defense didn't snuff out Detroit's best weapon, receiver Calvin Johnson, who caught eight passes for 94 yards. But for the second straight meeting the 49ers held him out of the end zone.
Detroit didn't score a touchdown until Stafford hit tight end Brandon Pettigrew with 1:29 remaining. "We felt like we were in control," safety Donte Whitner said. "Just wish they wouldn't have gotten that touchdown at the end of the game. But we're going to go back, and we're going to fix that."
With the 49ers in their nickel - five-defensive back -- defense throughout the game, the Lions leaned on their ground attack more than usual, running the ball 26 times. It was only moderately successful as they were held to 82 yards and a 3.2-yard average. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he was happy Detroit took that approach.
"Every handoff is one less throw to 81," he said
-- Matt Barrows