Sports

As defense hits stride, so do 49ers

Brooks
Brooks

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – There’s a good vibe in the San Francisco locker room as the 49ers prepare to hit the December NFL stretch run, and it resonates around a defense coming off one of its most dominant performances of the season.

The 49ers turned up pressure on the Washington Redskins on Monday night, giving the team a sense that a defense that carried San Francisco to the Super Bowl last season is hitting its stride.

Outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith each had two sacks and combined for six hits on quarterback Robert Griffin III during a 27-6 rout, signaling a return to top form by a defense that lost All-Pro players such as Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis for several games earlier this season.

“Pressure is a good thing,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Our defense is doing a heck of a job, playing really well together.”

The 49ers (7-4) have allowed an average of 12.5 points over their past eight games, a stretch that began with a September shut down of the St. Louis Rams (5-6), who come in Sunday for an NFC West rematch.

The 49ers won 35-11 at St. Louis to begin a five-game winning streak after a 1-2 start, and their defense has excelled ever since. Even during a recent two-game losing streak that put San Francisco’s two-year reign as NFC West champion in jeopardy, the defense played well in a one-point loss to Carolina and a three-point loss at New Orleans.

Those defeats dropped San Francisco to the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture, and the defense responded the next week by limiting the Redskins to 190 total yards, only 90 of which came through the air.

That effort was spearheaded by a game-high 11 tackles from Willis and Smith’s first sacks since he returned three weeks ago from a five-game absence. Smith left the team in late September to do a stint in rehab, and the 49ers also were without Willis for two games during that stretch due to a groin injury.

With everybody better now, the defense has climbed to sixth in the NFL rankings.

“We feel like this defense can take us where we want to go,” said strong safety Donte Whitner.



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