Niners notebook: Finally time to climb?

A 19-13 win at Detroit helped the 49ers achieve two goals they've struggled achieving in recent seasons. San Francisco won on the road for only the fourth time in its past 29 attempts and strung together back-to-back victories for just the second time since 2003. Yes, the 49ers are making progress under coach Mike Nolan as they've already equaled last season's win total with seven games to play.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Nolan said. "When you're going through those difficult times ... I'm not a quick-fix guy, but at the same time, you don't want to endure those things forever."

The 49ers' turnaround remarkably has come after their lowest moment. On Oct. 29, the 49ers trailed the Bears 41-0 at halftime. It was the worst half of football in the team's 61-year history.

But since halftime of that game, the 49ers defense has allowed just one touchdown in 10 quarters.

"The guys have worked through it," Nolan said. "I'd like to think it's going to lead to more wins, and I think it's a turning point. Maybe it's not a huge turning point, but it's a turning point. As we all do, we climb the ladder up and then take a step back every once in a while. I'd like to think that we're going to climb for a while."

The key to the resurgence has been a defense that just two weeks ago was on pace to yield the most points in NFL history. But the defense has since spearheaded two victories, including a 9-3 victory over the Vikings a week earlier.

"We really haven't given up," 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young said. "There are still a lot of games, and there's hope. For us, it was about staying the course and eventually it'll turn for us. Right now, it is."

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WR Arnaz Battle is turning into QB Alex Smith's top third-down target even though he played most of Sunday's game with a broken left hand.

Four of Battle's team-high six receptions came on successful third-down plays for the 49ers, including a key third-and-4 late in the game when the 49ers were trying to run out the clock.

"I wanted that ball in my hands," Smith said. "There were a couple third downs before that I wanted the ball in my hands. It felt good for the coaches to have the confidence in me to call that."

Smith rolled right and found Battle beyond the first-down marker for a 7-yard gain. After the two-minute warning, the 49ers ran out the clock with Smith taking a knee three times.

"That's big for us," Battle said. "There was a lot of emphasis on third-down conversions because we struggled early in the year."

The 49ers, who entered the game ranked 29th in the league with a 30.9 percent conversion rate on third downs, were successful on 10 of 19 (53 percent) on Sunday. Battle sustained a hand injury in the first quarter and continued to play. X-rays revealed a fracture to the outside of the hand, he said. He hoped he would not miss any time with the injury.

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Nolan tossed the red flag to challenge a call with the Lions driving late in the game despite the fact that he did not believe he would win the ruling.

With the Lions attempting to drive for a possible game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, officials originally ruled that Lions running back Kevin Jones fumbled with the 49ers recovering. But another official overruled the play. Nolan said that even though his assistants in the coaches' box advised him not to challenge the ruling, Nolan decided to throw the red flag to get his defense regrouped.

"Had I felt comfortable that the defense was set and everything was calm, I never would've thrown it (the red flag)," Nolan said. "One thing about being on the sideline, you feel your emotion and you feel the team."

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Veteran LB Derek Smith gave his teammates a rousing locker room speech before the team took the field. The 49ers have had a difficult time at the start of road games, and Smith tried to set the tone for the 49ers to begin quickly.

"It wasn't as much what he said as the energy he brought to it," TE Eric Johnson said. "He brought the energy up about 10 levels and got everyone going. I thought that helped our energy before the game."


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