49ers' makeshift defense works in opener

The 49ers lost both starting corners, but still did enough with their makeshift defense to come away with a 28-17 win to open the season in Dallas.

ARLINGTON, Texas - Already thin, the 49ers defense made enough plays, forcing four turnovers, to come out of Sunday's game against the Cowboys with a win.

"Everybody has been talking about our defense and how we won't be as good and what not, but to me, I don't get caught up in all of that," linebacker Patrick Willis said.

"To me, all that matters is how we perform on game day with whoever is in the game. Guys are missed, and hopefully, they'll be back soon. But right now, we just have to focus on the guys that are out there."

Add Chris Culliver (concussion) and Tramaine Brock (toe) to the list of absent 49ers defenders already missing two All-Pro linebackers in NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith.

Culliver sustained a concussion in the first quarter. Brock hyper extended his toe early, but was able to return to the game later.

Those injuries forced Perrish Cox and rookie fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson into action after the team had only made four of their five corners active. Chris Cook was forced to watch in street clothes while his position mates struggled to stay in the game.

"Dontae Johnson showed up big," Jim Harbaugh said. "They did a tremendous job; everything that you could want from them."

Cox, who was cut in training camp last season and later returned to play in the playoffs after a stint with the Seahawks, intercepted Tony Romo preventing a big play to Dez Bryant in the first quarter.

The Waco, Texas native was happy to be home, and more happy his role in Sunday's game wasn't limited to special teams, as he thought it would be coming in.

"I'm still feeling good about (the interception). It's really good to come home. I don't think I have played here since my rookie season," Cox said. "To come home and do it in front of everybody at home...it's the greatest thing ever."

Johnson had two pass breakups in his first game as a pro. He got the nod to be in uniform over Cook because of his ability to play special teams.

But Johnson also received a volume of snaps during the preseason, allowing six catches on 11 targets in coverage. He also made 10 tackles in those four exhibition games.

"(Johnson's) an aggressive player, we like him," coordinator Vic Fangio said. "One of the reasons he was up instead of Chris Cook in this game because of his contributions to special teams...that’s where a lot of guys get their start and he got awarded for being there. He had more special teams value and he ended playing whatever he played today."

Michael Wilhoite, replacing Bowman, had five tackles. Dan Skuta, replacing Aldon Smith, had two, and stripped DeMarco Murray on Culliver's fumble return for a touchdown on the game's third play.

Rookie fifth-round pick Aaron Lynch, saw considerable playing time rotating incumbent starter, and former All-Pro, Ahmad Brooks. He pressured Tony Romo into his first-quarter interception to Patrick Willis in the end zone.

"Out front seven did a good job getting pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary played well," safety Eric Reid said. "We got some turnovers, gave the ball back to our offense and we converted off of that."

Reid, starting his second NFL season, is suddenly the veteran of the secondary and said he might not have adjusted to the situation as well during his rookie season.

"I think (my experience) did help," he said. "We felt comfortable in our calls, our communication, even though we had young guys, we get them the call... they're good enough to play, and that's why they're here."


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