Dennis Pitta’s first career touchdown proved to be the difference and the Ravens tied a franchise record with nine sacks en route to a 16-6 victory over the 49ers Thanksgiving night in Baltimore.
The game saw the first-ever meeting in the NFL of head-coach brothers, with John Harbaugh guiding Baltimore and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh patrolling the opposing sideline.
The older brother got the better of his younger sibling thanks mainly to a suffocating defense led by Terrell Suggs’ three sacks.
“I just can’t tell you enough how proud I am of him and the job he’s done building that football team,” John Harbaugh said about his brother. “I think if you don’t make a mistake you have a chance to beat the 49ers and that’s it.”
Joe Flacco completed 15-of-23 passes for 161 yards and the game-deciding touchdown for Baltimore (8-3), which won its second straight game to take a 1/2 game lead for first place in the AFC North over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh heads to Kansas City to play the Chiefs Sunday night.
San Francisco (9-2) could have clinched the NFC West title with a win, but will have to wait at least one more week to seal its first trip to the postseason since 2002.
Alex Smith threw for 140 yards with an interception on 15-of-24 passing in the 49ers’ first defeat since a 27-24 overtime loss to Dallas on September 18.
“We knew what type of defense they were, especially at home,” Smith said. “We felt like they were getting the jump on us.”
Trailing 6-3 at the half, the 49ers were able to tie the game on the opening possession of the third quarter, marching 46 yards on 13 plays before David Akers nailed a 52-yard field goal.
The Ravens’ ensuing drive ate up the rest of the third quarter as Baltimore converted four third downs and Flacco hit seven different receivers during a 16-play drive.
The 76-yard march ended with the game’s first touchdown when Flacco hit Pitta over the middle of the end zone for an eight-yard score and a 13-6 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
San Francisco could not manage to get a first down on its next two drives and Baltimore extended its lead with 3:10 remaining on a 39-yard field goal.
Ted Ginn Jr. gave the 49ers good field position to start their next touch with a 36-yard kick return and Smith kept the drive alive with a fourth-down conversion on a pass to Michael Crabtree at the two-minute warning.
But Ginn dropped a potential first-down completion on a 4th-and-12 to seal the victory for the Ravens.
The Ravens took the ball at their own 25 to start the game and back-to-back receptions by Anquan Boldin of 22 and 16 yards helped move them down to the 49ers’ 20, but they had to settle for a 39-yard Billy Cundiff field goal.
After each team traded punts, Vernon Davis hauled in a short pass and took it 20 yards down the field to convert a third down.
Akers capped the nine-play drive with a 45-yard field goal to knot the game at three late in the first quarter.
Then a couple costly penalties in the second quarter negated two big plays by the 49ers as the Ravens took a 6-3 lead.
Ginn hauled in what would have been a 75-yard touchdown on the fourth play of the second, but it was called back on a chop block penalty and San Francisco had to punt.
Later in the quarter, Tarell Brown picked off Flacco on a deep pass down the middle that was called back on a pass interference penalty, placing the ball at the 49ers’ 15-yard line.
Baltimore was denied on three chances from inside the five, however, and Cundiff split the uprights from 23 yards out.
San Francisco drove within striking distance of at least a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds of the half, but Smith’s 35-yard toss into the end zone was intercepted by Lardarius Webb to keep it a three-point game at the break.