Ben Roethlisberger fumbles while being sacked, setting up the 49ers' final TD Monday night. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The lights may have gone out at Candlestick Park Monday night, but one thing was clearly visible to any fan watching from Tiburon to Tennessee:
The 49ers defense can shine against any team in the NFL.
The Niners beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-3 on national TV, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger (playing with an injured ankle) three times, sacking him three times, recovering a fumble and holding the Steelers to just 84 yards rushing. San Francisco also set an NFL record by extending its streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown through the first 14 games of the season.
In doing so, the 49ers improved to 11-3 and kept pace with the New Orleans Saints in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs with just two games to go. If both teams end the season with the same record, the 49ers hold the edge in the tiebreaker to earn the second seed.
The win over Pittsburgh, now 10-4, came just a week after a surprising loss to the Cardinals in Arizona and answered many in the national media who wrote that San Francisco perhaps had peaked earlier this season and was started to plateau.
It was a strange night at Candlestick Park, where the power went out about 25 minutes before kickoff, delaying the start of the game by about 20 minutes. Then, in the second quarter, the lights went out again, delaying the game by about another 15 minutes.
Asked after the game what it was like in the locker room before the game, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh joked, “It was dark.”
Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was suspended for the game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy last week, tweeted during the power outage: “If I can’t play, nobody can play.”
On the field, however, the Niners were clearly outplaying the visitors.
Two short David Akers field goals gave San Francisco a 6-0 lead at the half, but the Steelers cut the Niners’ lead to 6-3 late in the third quarter on Shaun Suisham’s 51-yard field goal.
The 49ers then blew the game open by scoring TDs on two of their next three possessions. Vernon Davis caught a 1-yard TD pass from Alex Smith – just one play after his 21-yard catch-and-run set it up – to give San Francisco a 13-3 lead.
Then, after Justin Smith recovered Roethlisberger’s fumble at the Steelers’s 17 when Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald sacked the Pittsburgh QB, the Niners capitalized on Frank Gore’s 5-yard scoring run to put San Francisco up 20-3 – and effectively turn the lights out on the Steelers.
While the Niners defense was stuffing the Steelers, Alex Smith led an efficient offense. Smith completed 18-of-31 passes for 187 yards and didn’t throw an interception. Davis led all receivers with six catches for 72 yards, and Gore rushed 18 times for 65 yards.
Now, the 49ers have a short week to prepare for Saturday’s game at Seattle. They'll finish the season Jan. 1 at St. Louis.