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49ers try to stop another top passer in Stafford when they face Lions

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POSTED September 14, 2012 9:39 p.m.

 


 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The overwhelming consensus on San Francisco's elite defense is that Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver the 49ers will face. And perhaps the best there is, period.

They kept the man known as Megatron out of the end zone last season, and that will be the No. 1 priority again Sunday night in a Week 2 conference showdown at Candlestick Park in the defending NFC West champion Niners' home opener.

And the coaches plan to play nice this time, too. When the 49ers rallied for a 25-19 win at Ford Field last October to hand the Lions their first loss following a 5-0 start, Jim Harbaugh enraged Detroit coach Jim Schwartz with a firm backslap and handshake — and the two even had to be separated coming off the field.

"We're both NFC teams. We're both 1-0. We were both playoff teams last year," Schwartz said. "Last year doesn't matter."

While everyone has long since moved on, or so they say, San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis acknowledges that moment did plenty to fire up the 49ers going forward.

"I'm sure Coach Harbaugh's not worried about that. It's in the back of his mind," Davis said. "We don't need any distractions. ... Coaches get upset just like the players. I don't think it's a big deal. It just makes the game that much more interesting and that much more exciting when you see coaches getting fired up like that. It definitely made me fired up for the next game. It was like, 'We got Harbaugh going crazy like this? Oh, yeah, I'm all for him.' "

Schwartz and Harbaugh have seen each other since and were civil.

Both will have plenty of other issues come Sunday than to stew about "mini-controversies," as Harbaugh put it this week, from 11 months ago.

"I do believe that's a thing of the past," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "Tempers were flaring. Coach was happy that we won. They were probably upset that they lost in their home. Each year's a new year. But we do expect a physical team, and we do expect a physical game on Sunday. We understand that they are upset coming up there last year and beating them."

San Francisco's stingy defense already shut down 2011 MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week at Lambeau Field, where the 49ers snapped an eight-game losing streak with their first victory in Green Bay since 1990. Next challenge: Matthew Stafford, another prolific passer with big-play potential, and Johnson.

Johnson had seven catches for 113 yards in last year's meeting but didn't score. That after he became the NFL's first player with nine TD receptions in the initial five games of a season.

He had six catches — with a 51-yarder — for 111 yards in Detroit's 27-23 victory against the Rams last week. Yet he was listed on the injury report during this week with a foot problem.

"I always get geeked up for games like this because your back's against the wall," said 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown, who at 5-foot-10 faces a significant height disadvantage defending the 6-5 Johnson.

Stafford threw for 355 yards against the Rams last week, completing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith for the winner with 10 seconds left. But he also threw three interceptions.

"Obviously I can't do that again and expect to win," Stafford said.

Stafford has now passed for at least 350 yards in four consecutive games, joining Drew Brees as the only players to accomplish the feat.

The 49ers already took Rodgers out of his game. They sacked him three times and got a game-changing interception from NaVorro Bowman to set up Frank Gore's late 23-yard scoring run.

"Each quarterback presents a different challenge," said San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers, who shared the team lead with six interceptions in 2011. "Matt is a different challenge. He has one of the best receivers in the league that he's going to get the ball to, going to force the ball to no matter how many people are on him. That's our No. 1 target this week."

49ers quarterback Alex Smith has been steady himself. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick is on a streak of 185 passes without an interception after throwing only five picks all last season to lead his team to the playoffs at last. His current run is the best in franchise history, passing Hall of Famer Steve Young's 184 consecutive throws without an interception. Smith had a 125.6 QB rating after a 30-22 season-opening victory at Green Bay.

"Obviously, it's an elite group here that's played this position for this organization," Smith said. "Definitely an honor just to be mentioned with those guys."

Last October, Smith rallied the 49ers at Ford Field after they fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter. He found Delanie Walker on a fourth-down, 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:51 left that held up after video review.

The Lions still figure they should have won.

"I know how teams and coaches can think sometimes: They want to get us back," Davis said. "They want us bad. They probably still feel like we have some things left on the table. We have to be cautious about that and just keep that in our mind that they're coming to play hard, physical football."

Detroit's defense will have to account for more than just Michael Crabtree this time in San Francisco's upgraded receiving corps. Crabtree matched his career high with nine catches for 77 yards last year against the Lions, and now has Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to complement him. Moss caught a TD pass last week in his return from a year out of the NFL.

The Lions certainly won't be surprised by David Akers' strong leg. Akers kicked a 55-yard field goal against them last season, and now he's coming off a successful 63-yarder that hit the crossbar and bounced through the uprights to tie an NFL record.

Detroit wants to limit such emotional moments and grab some early momentum.

"There's no better feeling than quieting a loud crowd. It's one of the greater feelings in life," Lions linebacker Justin Durant said. "I like to do it. That's one thing that we plan on doing this weekend."

 

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