SAN FRANCISCO – Monday Night Football nearly became a Monday Night Fiasco.
San Francisco’s lights-out return to prime time helped salvage what could have been an embarrassing evening for everyone involved on the NFL’s biggest stage after a pair of power outages delayed the game for close to 35 minutes in all.
The 49ers rode their top-ranked run defense once again to beat ailing Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers 20-3 on Monday night.
Vernon Davis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass for the 49ers (11-3) one play after setting himself up with a 21-yard reception from Alex Smith, Frank Gore ran for a 5-yard score and David Akers kicked field goals of 22 and 38 yards to overtake Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for San Francisco’s single-season scoring record.
“I think we showed the world we can play the game of football on a national stage,” Davis said. “At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about: respect.”
The Steelers (10-4) missed a key chance to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North and gain the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed.
Roethlisberger, playing on a sprained left ankle that had Big Ben in a walking boot during the week, threw two early interceptions and another in the waning minutes.
Even all those Terrible Towel-waving Steelers supporters couldn’t will their team when San Francisco’s unique home-field advantage became two blackout delays.
“We allowed them to put drives together,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We better lick our wounds pretty quickly because we have a quick turnaround here.”
San Francisco became the first team in NFL history to hold an opponent without a rushing touchdown through each of the first 14 games.
Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown made interceptions, while Rookie of the Year candidate Aldon Smith had 2 1/2 sacks for San Francisco’s stingy defense.
The 49ers also have gone 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Rashard Mendenhall had 15 carries for 64 yards for the Steelers.
The 49ers made a big statement in their most meaningful home game since their last trip to the playoffs in January 2003, when San Francisco came from behind to stun the New York Giants 39-38 in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
They had to wait 20 minutes to get started after the power went out the first time. It didn’t seem to faze San Francisco, however.
“It wasn’t too bad. It was unusual,” Alex Smith said. “You don’t expect to have to deal with it, and it happened twice. But it was the same for both teams.”
Smith wasn’t sacked after being taken down 18 times in the previous three games, including nine in the Niners’ prime time flop at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night against coach Jim Harbaugh’s big brother, John.
The 37-year-old Akers, who long admired Rice from afar growing up in Kentucky, topped Rice’s 138 points scored in 1987. Akers has 143.
The Steelers missed linebacker James Harrison, who served his one-game suspension for a helmet-to-facemask hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Dec. 8.
This marked the fourth time in Monday Night Football history that two teams faced off with 10 victories and a winning percentage of at least .750 – and San Francisco has played in all of them.
SF—FG Akers 22
SF—FG Akers 38
Pit—FG Suisham 51
SF—V.Davis 1 pass from Ale.Smith (Akers kick)
SF—Gore 5 run (Akers kick)
|Total Net Yards||389||287|
|Time of Poss.||31:26||28:34|
RUSHING—Pitt., Mendenhall 15-64, Moore 1-21, Roethlisberger 1-0, Redman 2-(minus 1). San Francisco, Gore 18-65, Dixon 5-12, Ale.Smith 3-12, Ginn Jr. 1-6, Miller 1-3, Hunter 2-2.
PASSING—Pitt., Roethlisberger 25-44-3-330. San Francisco, Ale.Smith 18-31-0-187.
RECEIVING—Pitt., Cotchery 5-93, Miller 5-82, Wallace 5-66, A.Brown 5-59, Mendenhall 3-25, Moore 2-5. San Francisco, V.Davis 6-72, Crabtree 4-35, K.Williams 4-33, Hunter 2-24, Ginn Jr. 1-14, Swain 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Pitt., Suisham 48 (WL).