The 9-1 record was there, but so too were the doubters. Sure, the 49ers had the second best record in the NFL, but how good would they perform against one of the league’s top defenses? Thursday night, we got our answer.
Facing a relentless pass rush, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith spent most of the night on his backside. The Ravens’ front four dominated San Francisco’s offensive line, registering nine sacks, tying a franchise record, en route to a 16-6 win. The loss for the 49ers puts an end to an eight-game winning streak and, at least for one more week, prevents them from clinching the NFC West.
In the opening half, both defenses flexed their respective muscles. Both Alex Smith and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco moved the ball, but neither could eclipse the end zone. With the offenses stalled in the red zone, both teams traded field goals as Baltimore took a 6-3 cushion into halftime.
Then, midway through the third quarter, the Ravens broke through. For the 49ers, the short week, combined with a long travel to the east coast, left questions about how the players would hold up late into the game. Those concerns turned to reality when Flacco led the Ravens on a 16-play drive that ate up nearly eight minutes, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving the Ravens a 13-6 lead.
Smith and the 49ers’ offense tried to answer, but against a pass rush that left the quarterback little time to set his feet and a rush defense that surrendered just 39 yards to Frank Gore, the 49ers would not find the red zone again. Billy Cundiff would add his third field goal of the night for Baltimore, sealing the 16-6 win.
On the night, Smith finished with 140 yards on 15-of-24 passing and threw one interception. Gore’s 39 yards were his second lowest of the year, and his lowest when having at least 10 carries. San Francisco’s offensive line really struggled, allowing those nine crucial sacks and leaving little time for either Smith or Gore.
Defensively the 49ers held tough, despite being out-shined by the Ravens’ unit. Flacco had just 161 yards and a touchdown pass, while running back Ray Rice carried the ball 21 times for 59 yards. After leading the league in takeaways with 27, though, the 49ers weren’t able to force any turnovers, or register a single sack.
San Francisco hosts St. Louis next week.