With a series of long offensive marches, stout defensive play and vital special teams contributions, the 49ers wore down the visiting Chiefs on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, powering to a 22-17 victory in Santa Clara.
After falling behind 17-13 early in the third quarter on Chiefs rookie tailback De’Anthony Thomas’ 17-yard TD catch, the 49ers dug in. First, the Niners cut into the lead with a 52-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, who connected on all five of this three-point attempts on the day.
Then, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the 49ers rolled the dice, calling a fake punt on their own 29-yard line. Needing one yard for a first down, they short-snapped to safety Craig Dahl. He plunged ahead for three yards, moving the chains. The gamble was the catalyst for a 13-play, 71 yard drive taking nearly seven minutes and ending a 27-yard Dawson field goal to give San Francisco the lead for good at 19-17 with 8:42 left in regulation.
From here, the 49ers’ defense closed with a flourish. It first forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense. From there, the Niners went on another of their long, grinding, clock-eating marches, getting a big assist when the Chiefs committed a too-many-players-on-the-field penalty as Dawson lined up for a 54-yard field goal with around four minutes left. This gave the Niners another first down, and they would run six more plays and take another two minutes off the clock before Dawson added a 30-yard field goal with 2:12 left.
The Chiefs (2-3) had one final shot on offense, but quarterback Alex Smith overthrew his intended target down the seam on a second-down play, and cornerback Perrish Cox made the interception with two minutes left. From there, San Francisco kneeled out the clock.
The 49ers held the ball for more than 36 minutes and got 171 yards from their ground game, including 107 from Frank Gore. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick hit on just 14-of-26 passes and missed a potential game-clinching pass to Anquan Boldin before Dawson’s last field goal, but he didn’t turn the ball over, kept the 49ers’ first scoring drive alive with a key scramble and made a key fourth-quarter throw to Brandon Lloyd resulting in a leaping 29-yard third down gain for the veteran receiver. Overall, Kaepernick threw for 201 yards, including a nine-yard second-quarter score to Stevie Johnson.
Smith started fast against his old team, leading two scoring drives right off the bat. But the Chiefs’ offense found the going tougher thereafter, and the 49ers’ defense held Kansas City off the board for the final 26:56 of regulation.
Tailback Jamaal Charles racked up 80 yards on 15 carries for the Chiefs, who are now two games behind San Diego in the AFC West. Kansas City has its bye next week.
The 49ers visit the Rams next Monday night, the first of four road games in a five-game, one-bye stretch for San Francisco. But at least the Niners begin that journey with a little bit of a cushion after winning their second in a row.