SAN FRANCISCO — If Jim Harbaugh likes blue-collar football as much as he lets on, he must have loved the 49ers drive that started with 9:10 left in Sunday night's game at Candlestick Park.
Nothing came easy on the possession — except maybe for the final play. The offense survived three third-and-long plays, and Alex Smith survived a cut to the bridge of his nose. By the time he hit Vernon Davis for a 23-yard catch-and-run touchdown, blood was trickling down the quarterback's face and the 49ers were cementing their place as one of the NFL's elite teams.
Davis' second score put the home team up by 15 points over the Detroit Lions, and San Francisco held on for a 27-19 victory in the hard-hitting, occasionally nasty game that everyone expected of these two teams.
“We knew it would be a tough, close, aggressive, bell-ringing game, and it was,” Harbaugh said afterward.
Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz, forever remembered for their post-game handshake skirmish last year in Detroit, were on better behavior Sunday night. They shook hands and chatted before the game, and their midfield meeting afterward was cordial.
Their players weren't always so pleasant. Lions defensive end Cliff Avril appeared to catch tight end Delanie Walker's helmet as he knocked him down at the sideline after one play. Avril and tackle Anthony Davis went at it after a running play. Even when Smith took a knee to run out the final clock, there was pushing and shouting.
But Smith's facial wound was the ultimate symbol of this rugged game. Lions safety John Wendling got a forearm through the QB's facemask and cut his nose as he went into a slide on the crucial drive, but Smith calmly got back to business and finished the march.
“He's as tough as a two-dollar steak,” Harbaugh said of his passer. “Grew up eating a lot of them. I know what I'm talking about.”