DETROIT — Vic Fangio has been coaching since 1979. So when the 49ers' defensive coordinator says his team's defensive performance Sunday 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, 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.
ROOKIES HAVE BIG ROLES
Johnson was matched against each of the 49ers' cornerbacks at various times, including rookie Chris Culliver, the team's No. 3 cornerback who played most of the game. The 6-foot, 199-pound Culliver, a safety at South Carolina, is the 49ers' biggest cornerback, and he often was asked to play press coverage against the 6-5, 236-pound Johnson and alter the receiver's routes.
“Once we rerouted 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, making five sacks of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been sacked six times entering Sunday's game. Two sacks came from 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 on third downs as a defensive end. With the Lions using three and four receivers for most of the afternoon, it looked as if Smith would be active.
Outside linebacker Parys Haralson, however, injured his hamstring in the first half, giving Smith even more snaps, including the most he has seen at outside linebacker this season. The 49ers have only three outside linebackers.