For a game that is called violent, celebrated when it is smashmouth, and frequently metaphored towards war, it seems odd that so much can revolve around a handshake. A gentlemen’s handshake that is almost a second thought given no matter how each team treated each other. It is a ritual that begins in tee-ball and Pop Warner of two teams lining up and giving congratulations of a “good game” no matter the definition of “good”. No matter what was said or done on the field or what the schedule has for the future, the ritual continues.
More words have been spewed on the handshake leading up to the pivotal matchup between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers than the actual game. That is because last year, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and his posse of ego and smugness dismissed the handshake with Lions coach Jim Schwartz at the end of last season’s meeting. Instead, Harbaugh gave a handpump instead of a handshake, a push more than a back slap and a fly-by instead of a courtesy “good game.” It may have had to do with Schwartz cussing across the field at Harbaugh about not knowing the rules, but the video cameras didn’t catch that at all. Instead the fans got to see a scrum at the end of the game as Schwartz took displeasure at Harbaugh and chased after him.
Realizing drama and distractions are what prevents top teams from the playoffs. Each coach played nice yesterday. There was a warm handshake before the game and a half-hug afterwards, as if their moms promised them another orange slice if they were good sports.
In the end, it was about football. Good old, smashmouth football. It was an early test for each team to see how they fared against playoff-caliber teams. And handshakes weren’t part of the game plan.
After defeating MVP Aaron Rogers, Alex Smith once again went up against a top-flight passer. And once again he held his own, this time against Matthew Stafford. Putting together a 20/31, 226 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT line, Smith was able to match Stafford. Stafford had only 4 more yards, but threw only 1 TD with an interception.
The star of San Francisco was once again their defense. A blanket of coverage was laid as they were able to contain all-universe Calvin Johnson to under 100 yards and 0 touchdowns. The Lions didn’t get into the red zone until late in the game. They tried to run the ball instead and found no success. Kevin Smith was their top rusher with 16 carries but managed only 3.3 yards per run. The Lions now rank 26th in the league in rushing.
Detroit couldn’t force Smith into mistakes. He has now gone 9 straight games without an interception. He was able to consistently find holes in Detroit’s defense who were without two key cornerbacks, Chris Houston and Bill Bentley. Smith even played the part of tough guy, taking a John Wendling forearm to the helmet during a sliding play. He stuck around and quickly found the endzone. He found Vernon Davis for both of his touchdowns.
Kendall Hunter fumbled during a kick return killing San Francisco’s streak of quarters without a turnover at 26 quarters (6 regular season games).
The memory of a carosoul of coordinators and fans displeasure towards Alex Smith fade a little bit more each time the 49ers defeat a marquee quarterback and a playoff team. The trick for the 49ers and their fans is looking around and wondering who can challenge them now. Can they handle being the ones with the target on their backs? Can they handle the next upstart who can’t remember how to shake hands at the end of a game out of excitement?
San Francisco is now 2-0.
Detroit is now 1-1.
Photo Credit: Tony Medina/Icon SMI