Gore leads Niners past Lions
SAN FRANCISCO – With their hopes for the playoffs dashed, the San Francisco 49ers have to search for other goals to motivate them down the stretch.
The Niners crossed one item off their to-do list Sunday and moved one step closer to achieving two others.
Frank Gore reached 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season, Vernon Davis caught his 12th touchdown pass and the 49ers moved within one win of avoiding a seventh straight losing season by beating the Detroit Lions 20-6.
“It’s a matter of pride,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s what we’re playing for right now. We haven’t finished better than 7-9 since I’ve been here. It’s something we’re all playing for.”
The Niners (7-8) forced six turnovers to close out the home season with a victory. They can end their string of losing seasons by winning at St. Louis next week.
They will also try to get Davis at least one more touchdown catch. He is currently one shy of Antonio Gates’ single-season record for tight ends. Smith did his best to get Davis a touchdown in this game, flipping him a pass on third-and-goal from the 2 when he could have easily run the ball in for a score.
“Thank you, Alex. I appreciate it,” Davis said. “He’s not one of those guys that is selfish. He’d rather throw a completion than score himself.”
Drew Stanton struggled in his first career start for the Lions (2-13), throwing for just 130 yards and three interceptions before being pulled for Daunte Culpepper midway through the fourth quarter.
Detroit lost its fifth straight game and 20th in a row on the road.
“Last week we said the true measure of a quarterback is his ability to move the team and put points on the board, and we didn’t get that done today,” coach Jim Schwartz said.
“We didn’t score touchdowns, we didn’t move the team, we didn’t get third-down conversions and we turned the ball over too much. It doesn’t matter how Drew performed, the offense didn’t perform well and ultimately that’s the quarterback’s responsibility.”
Stanton replaced Culpepper last week as the Lions search for a quarterback with rookie starter Matthew Stafford sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Schwartz wouldn’t say who will start against Chicago next week.
San Francisco didn’t fare much better until getting a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to pull away. The first came when Smith found Davis just before crossing the line of scrimmage.
On the next drive, Smith found a wide-open Gore on fourth-and-1. Gore scampered to the 6 on a 48-yard gain. Two plays later, he dived in from the 1 to make it 20-3.
Gore ran for 71 yards on 28 carries. He has 1,013 yards rushing, becoming the first Niners player to reach 1,000 four times in a career.
“It means a lot,” Gore said. “It was an up-and down season. I missed a couple games. It was tough, a tough year. It was a blessing. I have to give it all to my O-line. They did a great job.”
Smith went 20 for 31 for 230 yards and his career-high 17th touchdown pass of the season as he tries to solidify his hold on the starting quarterback position heading into next season.
The Lions moved the ball well on their first drive, going 76 yards in 15 plays to set up a 27-yard field goal by Jason Hanson. Detroit had only three more first downs the rest of the half, losing two fumbles and throwing an interception. Stanton threw two more interceptions in the second half and Detroit lost a fumble on its final drive.
“You have to be smart with the ball and can’t turn it over or else you are not going to be out there too long,” Stanton said.
The Lions didn’t score again until Hanson kicked another field goal late in the fourth quarter after Culpepper came in and the game had long been decided.
The Niners could not capitalize with points off any of those miscues, each of which gave San Francisco the ball near midfield. Gore was stuffed on fourth-and-1 after Stanton fumbled, the 49ers had to punt after a fumble by Johnson and Grady Jackson blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by Ricky Schmitt in the closing seconds of the half.
Schmitt, signed this week to replace injured Joe Nedney, make a pair of field goals earlier in the half to give San Francisco a 6-3 lead.
NOTES: Lions LB Larry Foote missed the game with a foot injury, ending his streak of 94 straight starts. … Niners LT Joe Staley left with a bruised knee early in the second half. … The blocked kick was the 24th by the Lions since the start of the 2001 season, most in the NFL.
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