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The 49ers (11-3) finally returned to prominence and received a nationally televised game at home and what happened? Their stadium went nearly pitch black only minutes before kickoff of their eventual 20-3 victory over the Steelers (10-4).
“I just feel like San Francisco took a big step to show the NFL and to show the state of California that they need a new stadium,” said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. “I think it was a very strategic move, and Candlestick may be no more.” Don’t worry, Ryan. The 49ers hope to open a new stadium in Santa Clara in time for the 2014 season.
Thankfully an earthquake did not cause all the commotion. An overhead blimp actually captured video of a generator just outside Candlestick Park suddenly exploding and immediately causing the power outage. Fans had to sit through about a 20 minute delay before football would be played.
Just when the situation appeared to be resolved – it reappeared. The majority of the lights went out again during an early second quarter TV timeout. This would delay the action for about 16 more minutes. No further issues afterwards, though. Losses by the Texans and Ravens on Sunday would give Pittsburgh the #1 seed in the AFC with a win on Monday night.
That gave Ben Roethlisberger extra motivation to give it a go after being questionable all week with a high ankle sprain suffered against Cleveland. But Pittsburgh might have been better off with backup Charlie Batch. Big Ben showed a considerable limp from the outset and suffered greatly from his inability to extend plays with his legs as he so often does.
Uncharacteristic interceptions by Roethlisberger also resulted. Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, and Tarell Brown all recorded one pick each on the night and made Roethlisberger’s 330 passing yards obsolete. Rogers’ interception at the goal line on Pittsburgh’s opening drive foreshadowed another great defensive effort by San Francisco.
The 49ers #1 scoring defense gave up only 3 points, while their top-ranked unit against the run set an NFL record by not allowing a single touchdown on the ground 14 games into the season. “I also want to recognize our defense,” said coach Jim Harbaugh. “NFL record for not allowing a rushing touchdown in 14 games. I think that is huge.”
Terrible clock management by Pittsburgh down 6-0 toward the end of the half left them with nothing after passing up a 55 yard field goal attempt. The Steelers were finally able to get on the board with about 6 minutes remaining in the third. A 50 yard field goal cut San Francisco’s lead in half at 6-3. Despite offensive struggles Pittsburgh was still right in the ball game.
That’s when the 49ers realized it was time to go for the kill. Alex Smith would lead San Francisco on a 79 yard touchdown drive in response to the Pittsburgh field goal. Smith remained poised and threw a one yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis after he was ruled out of bounds and short of the goal line on the previous play.
Smith only had 181 yards and 1 touchdown, but did not turn the ball over and cost his team. Pittsburgh went to a no-huddle offense down 13-3 with 3:44 remaining in the third. They moved the ball efficiently but missed a 48 yard field goal with less than a minute remaining. The Steelers defense gave the offense an opportunity to make it a one possession game until Justin Smith stripped Roethlisberger and recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 23.
Smith finished the play after rookie linebacker Aldon Smith initially hit Roethlisberger. Two and a half sacks on the night gave him the team’s rookie record with 13. There was still hope for Steelers Nation after San Francisco had to settle for a field goal, but a leaping penalty on the kick gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs.
Two plays later Frank Gore would run it in from five yards out and give his team a 20-3 lead with 9:06 remaining. The 49ers defense remained relentless and held on easily. Pittsburgh will now continue its pursuit of the AFC North crown over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, the 49ers keep making their case as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
“I think we showed the world we can play the game of football on a national stage,” said Davis. “At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about: respect.”
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