Niners quarterback Alex Smith led two his team to two TDs in the red zone vs. Pittsburgh in the second half Monday night. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
San Francisco’s defense played a starring role in Monday night’s 20-3 victory over the Steelers, but not to be overlooked is what the 49ers’ offense did in the second half.
After failing to score a touchdown in 10 straight trips into the red zone, the Niners were 2-for-2 in the second half against Pittsburgh.
It was a much-needed boost for an offense that has noticeably stalled over the past several games.
The 49ers, now 11-3 as they head into Saturday’s game against the Seahawks in Seattle, are still very much in the running for the NFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. San Francisco is tied with the Saints, but holds the tiebreaker edge if both finish the season with the same record.
After having to settle for two short David Akers field goals in the first half, San Francisco responded in the second half by solving its red-zone woes.
After the Steelers kicked a field goal to cut their deficit to 6-3, Alex Smith led the Niners on a long touchdown drive by going to his favorite target, tight end Vernon Davis.
Smith completed a 31-yarder to Davis, a 27-yarder to Kendall Hunter on a screen pass and then a 21-yarder to Davis to the Pittsburgh 1. From there, Smith hit Davis on a 1-yard TD toss.
Later, after recovering a Ben Roethlisberger fumble, the 49ers scored from 5 yards out on Frank Gore’s run.
“Tremendous job by Alex Smith,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told Bay Area News Group columnist Tim Kawakami after the game. “He was just on the money all night long.”
Said Davis: “If we can get aggressive in the red zone, we will be unstoppable.”
ESPN’s Mike Sando wrote that what the 49ers accomplished in the red zone in the second half was a positive step, but “not a long-term solution.”
“Continued progress in that area will be critical for the 49ers to beat the best teams,” he wrote.
The victory over the Steelers was a huge step for a team that had stumbled the week before against Arizona, and had doubters questioning their chances in the playoffs.
“This one was big,” Davis told ESPN, adding, “It showed the world that we’re serious and we can play big games on the national stage.”
And that they can finally score touchdowns, not field goals, in the red zone.