Crabtree, Walker soar high after game-winning TD
The NFC might have a nasty new rivalry no one saw coming after the 49ers rallied for an exciting and dramatic 25-19 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday that was just a prelude to the wild exchange that took place between their coaches after the game.
Jim Harbaugh charged across the field after the huge comeback victory, lifting his shirt to expose his belly to attempt a chest bump. After reaching Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, Harbaugh extended his right hand to Schwartz for a shake and slapped him on the back with his left hand.
Schwartz didn't like what was done or said – claiming he heard an expletive – and went charging after Harbaugh.
That was the emotion-filled scene following a meeting of turnaround teams that matched all the pregame hype and ended with San Francisco's eighth consecutive victory over the Lions on a momentous Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
There was some bad blood brewing between the two teams after the game, but Harbaugh was more focused on what the 49ers have brewing in his first season as their head coach. It was San Francisco’s third comeback victory in as many road games this year and gave the 49ers their first 5-1 start since 1998 while handing the Lions their first loss of the season after a 5-0 start.
“It says we’ve got a lot of character,” Harbaugh said. “You know, they’ve got steel in their spine, they really do. I feel like something special is really brewing here.”
After the 49ers knocked the Lions from the unbeaten ranks on Alex Smith's touchdown pass with 1:51 left, both coaches added some highlights – or lowlights – of their own.
Harbaugh took the blame in one breath – and a shot in the next.
"That's totally on me," Harbaugh said. "I shook his hand too hard."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the incident will be reviewed.
Harbaugh, a first-year NFL coach who played at Michigan, had to be separated from Schwartz more than once after Schwartz came running and lunging toward him as both teams were going to the tunnel.
"I went to congratulate coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way," Schwartz said. "I didn't expect an obscenity at that point. Obviously, when you win a game like that, you are excited, but there is a protocol that goes with this league."
Players from the 49ers and Lions gathered and appeared to restore order – probably because they were worn out from a hard-hitting, penalty-filled game with four lead changes after halftime.
“Ironically, I was playing peacemaker," Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "But this is an emotional sport."
Smith's fourth-and-goal, 6-yard pass to Delanie Walker gave San Francisco the go-ahead touchdown with 1:51 left. The play stood after video review didn't show definitely whether Walker's right knee was down before the ball reached the goal line.
After the 49ers stopped the Lions on fourth down at their own 25-yard line on Detroit’s next possession, David Akers gave San Francisco a six-point lead with 1:02 to go with a 37-yard field goal.
Detroit had a chance to drive for a winning TD, but couldn't get a first down against a swarming defense that hit and confused quarterback Matthew Stafford from the start.
That last drive started with San Francisco's fifth sack and ended with a catch and lateral – 69 yards short of the end zone – to trigger Harbaugh's exuberant celebration.
"It fires me up a lot," Harbaugh said. "If that offends you or anybody else, then so be it."
San Francisco lost its first five games last season and the five-time Super Bowl championship franchise failed to finish with a winning record for the eighth straight year.
But Harbaugh has made an instant impact, quickly changing the culture in San Francisco with many of the same players. The NFC West-leading 49ers have won five of their first six games for the first time since 1998 and extended their lead in the NFC West to 2½ games over second-place Seattle, a division rival the Niners already have played and beaten.
"He loves football," Smith said. "He's an emotional guy, and it's showing up on this team."
Smith lost a fumble on his first snap and threw an interception late in the third quarter, matching his turnover totals from the first five games in both categories.
But the No. 1 pick overall from the 2005 draft made a clutch pass to Walker for the win when Michael Crabtree drew away the defense.
"They kind of jumped Crab and left me open in the middle," Walker said. "Alex made a great read and made a perfect throw."
Smith was 17 of 32 for 125 yards, going early and often to Crabtree, who matched a career high with nine receptions for 77 yards. Frank Gore ran 15 times for 141 yards, including a season-long 55-yard gain, and scored a TD that pulled the 49ers within three after they were outscored 10-0 in the first quarter. Gore had a 47-yard run to set up his TD.
Stafford looked shaky for the first time this season and San Francisco had a lot to do with that.
"It's a good defense," he acknowledged after completing 28 of 50 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Detroit had won nine consecutive regular-season games, dating to last season, in what was the league's longest active streak. Now the Niners are the streaking team, winning their fourth in a row and becoming the first NFL team to win three consecutive road games in the Eastern time zone since 1996.
"We had trouble getting guys free, and when we did, we didn't always make the throws," Schwartz said. "We need to get the running game going so that we don't look quite so one-dimensional."
The Lions couldn't move the ball on the ground with either Jahvid Best or Maurice Morris against a sturdy front and perhaps the league's best linebacking corps, allowing the 49ers to hit and harass Stafford.
He was sacked once in the end zone, giving the 49ers a safety that cut their deficit to one point midway through the second quarter. The Niners finished with five sacks and hit Stafford eight times.
Jason Hanson missed a 52-yard field goal that would've given Detroit a four-point lead late in the first half. Akers made a 55-yard kick to match a season high, putting the 49ers ahead 12-10 as time expired in the half.
Brandon Pettigrew had eight catches for 42 yards and a score. Calvin Johnson added seven receptions for 113 yards, but didn't score after being the NFL's first player with nine TD receptions in the first five games of a season.
Stafford connected with Nate Burleson on a 5-yard pass into the end zone ruled incomplete on the field. It was overturned after video review, giving Detroit a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Burleson caught the ball and got both feet down, then lost the ball after tumbling beyond the end zone – a play similar to Johnson's well-documented catch that was ruled incomplete last year at Chicago.
The 49ers overcame 15 penalties, including five false starts at raucous Ford Field, and Detroit drew six flags.
"Once you get a couple false starts, it's like throwing gasoline on a fire," Smith said.
And then there was some gasoline thrown on the fire after the game as the Niners matched the Lions with the NFL’s second-best record behind 6-0 Green Bay.