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Niners stop Lions, 27-19

San Francisco 49ers’ Kendall Hunter (32) breaks a tackle against Detroit Lions John Wendling (29) in the third quarter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California, on Sunday, September 16, 2012. San Francisco defeated Detroit, 27-19.

By Cam Inman, Contra Costa Times –

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco 49ers opened their penultimate season at Candlestick Park with more than just another win for their growing credibility.

This one came on the “Sunday Night Football” stage, and it came against an NFC contender that likes to play rough, just like them.

“We knew it’d be a tough, close, aggressive, bell-ringing game, and it was,” coach Jim Harbaugh said after the 49ers’ 27-19 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Harbaugh left the physicality to the 49ers’ defense and stamina-minded offense. Rather than replay last season’s postgame commotion, Harbaugh kept his celebration in check and gave a more innocent handshake to Lions counterpart Jim Schwartz en route to the joyous locker room.

The 49ers’ 2-0 start has them packing understated confidence for an upcoming two-game trip, featuring visits to the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets, as well as a second annual layover in Youngstown, Ohio, between those games.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons and a lot of great things going for us,” said tight end Vernon Davis, whose second touchdown catch Sunday provided valuable insurance.

The Lions settled for four field goals from Jason Hanson before eclipsing the goal line on Matthew Stafford’s 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. But that came with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining. It was too little, too late.

Helping thwart that eventual Lions rally was the 49ers’ final scoring drive: a 13-play, 79-yard march that chewed up 6:12 before Alex Smith found Davis for a 23-yard touchdown completion.

That drive was kept alive by a trio of Michael Crabtree receptions for third-down conversions. Smith also came away with an unwanted souvenir: a cut on the bridge of his nose delivered by a questionable hit from safety John Wendling at the end of a scramble.

Smith finished 20 of 31 for 226 yards with two touchdowns, and he extended his franchise record to 216 consecutive passes without an interception. Not helping his cause were six dropped passes.

Crabtree was responsible for one of those drops, but he caught the six other passes targeted for him and finished with 67 receiving yards.

“Whatever Alex threw, I was trying to catch it,” Crabtree said. “I dropped one pass and felt I needed to redeem myself.”

Crabtree was called upon to speak to his teammates while celebrating his birthday Friday. He implored his offensive teammates to play up to the standard of the 49ers’ more-touted defense.

That 49ers defense put forth another stellar effort, containing the Lions’ dynamic passing combination of Stafford and wideout Calvin Johnson. Stafford, who threw for over 350 yards in his past four regular-season games, was limited to 230, completing 19 of 32 passes. Johnson had eight catches for 94 yards, but none longer than a 26-yard effort on the Lions’ next-to-last drive.

“We knew if we played good defense and took care of our business, we’d have a good chance to win,” said linebacker Aldon Smith, who sacked Stafford twice. (Ray McDonald was initially credited with Smith’s first sack, and the 49ers plan to ask the league to adjust that.)

The 49ers needed only four plays on their first series to claim a 7-0 lead, with Davis scoring on a 21-yard pass from Smith against Wendling’s coverage.

The 49ers could have taken a 10-6 lead on Akers’ 35-yard field goal, but a running-into-the-kicker penalty renewed that drive. Wide receiver Randy Moss then drew a Lions pass-interference penalty in the end zone, setting up Frank Gore’s 1-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter.

It was Gore’s second touchdown in two games, and he followed the lead blocks of Will Tukuafu, Daniel Kilgore, Alex Boone and Delanie Walker.

The Lions had pulled within 7-6 behind two Hanson field goals, and those scores were bracketed around Kendall Hunter’s fumble on a 49ers kickoff return. It was Hunter’s first NFL turnover, and the first fumble lost by the 49ers since Nov. 6 at Washington.

Limiting the Lions to another field goal after that turnover set a definite tone by the 49ers defense.

“Keeping them out of the end zone for 58 minutes of the game was very impressive,” Harbaugh said.

Such defensive dominance — and timely scoring by the offense — helped the 49ers remain unbeaten in regulation at home dating to November 2010.

“We’re glad to go out there and give them something to root for,” linebacker Patrick Willis said.

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