49ers replay: Defense getting things fixed

Things could not have gotten much worse for the 49ers after trailing the Bears 41-0 at halftime on Oct. 29. The San Francisco defense didn't appear to have the capacity to make much improvement, either. But something has happened since that embarrassment. The defensive players began asking to stay after practice to get things corrected, and the results have shown in a big way the past two weeks.

"That's part of us players taking ownership of the defense," 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young said. "It means something to us, and we want to correct it. It's about being more responsible to each other, the defense and the organization. We haven't given up. There are still a lot of games to play, and there's still hope."

In the 10 quarters since trailing Chicago at halftime, the 49ers have surrendered just one touchdown. The defense led the way for the second consecutive week in a 19-13 victory over the Detroit Lions.

The victory was the 49ers' second in a row - only their second winning streak in the past 3.5 seasons. It was also the 49ers' fourth win in their past 29 road games, and matched their win total for all of last season with seven games remaining on their 2006 schedule.

Moreover, the 49ers (4-5) moved into a tie for second place in the NFC West with the St. Louis Rams, and have a chance this week against the Seahawks to reach the .500 mark for the first time this late in the season since they were 5-5 in November of 2003.

"The important thing is our football team has faced a lot of adversity with some difficult defeats and has continued to bust their tails and do the things needed to do to get back to where we are right now," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.

The 49ers appear to be in much better position to compete against the defending NFC champion Seahawks with the way they have played in recent weeks. The offense is geared to play a ball-control kind of game behind the running of Frank Gore, and the defense has made a remarkable improvement.

The reasons for the improvement appear to be the commitment shown by the defensive players to stay late after practice, as well as the production the club has received from linebacker Brandon Moore and safety Keith Lewis. Moore and Lewis entered the starting lineup two weeks ago to replace struggling Jeff Ulbrich and Mike Adams, respectively.

It's no coincidence the 49ers haven't lost since.

"What they do behind the scenes, as far as extra meetings and extra work and staying late, is very important," 49ers defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "The look in their eye is right. I've said, 'If you keep watching, we're going to turn the corner.' Two wins in a row is a sign, but we haven't turned it, yet."

The past two Wednesdays, the 49ers' defense remained on the practice field for approximately 30 minutes to go over all of the mistakes they had just made during a full-speed practice session.

"It was the player's request," Davis said. "Instead of waiting until the next day to get in a meeting, they wanted to walk through the mistakes we made and do those plays over."

The 49ers have given up just 16 points in their past two games after averaging twice that in points allowed over their first seven games. The 49ers haven't allowed that few of points over a two-game stretch since back-to-back wins over Miami and Philadelphia in 2001, the last time their defense was considered among the better units in the league.

San Francisco also allowed 251 yards to the Lions after giving up just 238 to Minnesota the week before. Both totals are the fewest the 49ers have allowed in a game this season, and only one other time in their first nine games did they allow fewer than 333 yards.

--- RB Frank Gore set a club record with 148 yards rushing in a half. Gore finished with 159 yards and a TD on 22 carries against the Lions before leaving late in the third quarter with a mild concussion. His status for Sunday's game against the Seahawks is uncertain, but he's expected to be available to play. Gore got the 49ers going with a 61-yard touchdown run on the first series of the game. "There's not a weak part of Frank's game," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "People around the country are starting to take notice."
--- WR Arnaz Battle has emerged as a solid third-down receiver for the 49ers. He caught a team-high six catches for 55 yards against the Lions, with four of those receptions coming on successful third downs. Battle did it all with a fracture on the outside of his left hand. He was scheduled for further exams, and his status for Sunday against the Seahawks is uncertain.
--- QB Alex Smith did not have a great game against the Lions. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 136 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. But he misfired on one pass that should have been intercepted and returned for a TD, and also overthrew WR Antonio Bryant on a deep pass in the end zone
--- LB Brandon Moore, making his second start after replacing Jeff Ulbrich in the starting lineup, had another big game. Moore led the 49ers with nine tackles and two sacks. The reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week also had two other hits on Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna.
--- FS Keith Lewis came up big in his second start since replacing Mike Adams in the starting lineup. Lewis had a forced fumble early in the game that led to a 49ers field goal. His late-fourth-quarter interception at the 49ers' 2-yard line ended the Lions' final scoring chance.

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