SAN FRANCISCO — Monday Night Football nearly became a Monday Night Fiasco.
San Francisco's lights-out return to prime time helped salvage what could have been an embarrassing evening for everyone involved on the NFL's biggest stage after a pair of power outages delayed the game for close to 35 minutes in all. The 49ers rode their top-ranked run defense once again to beat ailing Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers 20-3 on Monday night.
Vernon Davis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass for the 49ers (11-3) one play after setting himself up with a 21-yard reception from Alex Smith, Frank Gore ran for a 5-yard score and David Akers kicked field goals of 22 and 38 yards to overtake Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for San Francisco's single-season scoring record.
"I think we showed the world we can play the game of football on a national stage," Davis said. "At the end of the day that's what it's all about: respect."
The Steelers (10-4) missed a key chance to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North and gain the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed.
Roethlisberger, playing on a sprained left ankle that had Big Ben in a walking boot during the week, threw two early interceptions and another in the waning minutes.
Even all those Terrible Towel-waving Steelers supporters couldn't will their team when San Francisco's unique home-field advantage became two blackout delays.
"We allowed them to put drives together," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We better lick our wounds pretty quickly because we have a quick turnaround here."
San Francisco became the first team in NFL history to hold an opponent without a rushing touchdown through each of the first 14 games.
"I also want to recognize our defense," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "NFL record for not allowing a rushing touchdown in 14 games. I think that is huge."
Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown made interceptions, while Rookie of the Year candidate Aldon Smith had 21/2; sacks for San Francisco's stingy defense.
The 49ers also have gone 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Rashard Mendenhall had 15 carries for 64 yards.
"This team has really become a team," Harbaugh said. I'm really proud of them for that."
Roethlisberger still finished 25 for 44 for 330 yards, but was sacked three times. After his second pick, he fumed as he limped off the field and could be seen yelling into his chin strap.
The 49ers made a big statement in their most meaningful home game since their last trip to the playoffs in January 2003, when San Francisco came from behind to stun the New York Giants 39-38 in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. They had to wait 20 minutes to get started after the power went out the first time. It didn't seem to faze San Francisco.
"It wasn't too bad. It was unusual," Smith said. "You don't expect to have to deal with it, and it happened twice. But it was the same for both teams."
Smith wasn't sacked after being taken down 18 times in the previous three games, including nine in the Niners' prime time flop at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night against Jim Harbaugh's big brother, John.
Jim Harbaugh prepared for the Steelers by comparing notes with his brother after the Ravens won both meetings this season with Pittsburgh in one of the AFC's fiercest rivalries.
The Steelers are 0-for-Harbaugh this year.
"I think we need to acknowledge that was 49er football tonight," Tomlin said. "We played the game on their terms."
The 37-year-old Akers, who long admired Rice from afar growing up in Kentucky, topped Rice's 138 points scored in 1987.
Yet Akers has said he doesn't feel deserving of the points mark over a great such as Rice — who clowned around on the field before the game catching passes from fellow Hall of Famer and former QB Steve Young, including one in the end zone.
It was after Akers' second field goal when everything went dark for a second time. Thousands of flashbulbs went off in the midst of the black, with a sellout crowd of 69,732 sitting in darkness — including all those Steelers fans who travel the country with their team.
NFL security chief Jeff Miller said he witnessed a transformer blow up while he was monitoring a gate outside the stadium, where a shooting during the preseason already put a negative light on this venue.
The second delay came early in the second quarter and halted the game again between the playoff-bound teams for about 15 minutes. Miller and other NFL officials gathered in the press box to assess the situation, remaining in constant contact with the commissioner's office.
This was the 49ers' only Monday Night game this season and their final regular-season home game at Candlestick Park. The NFL certainly will want to make sure there are no problems when San Francisco hosts a home playoff game next month as NFC West champions — and Miller said he remains confident Candlestick can capably host a playoff game.
"Never in my life have I been a part of a blackout in a stadium," Davis said.
The Steelers missed linebacker James Harrison, who served his one-game suspension for a helmet to facemask hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Dec. 8.
This marked the fourth time in Monday Night Football history that two teams faced off with 10 victories and a winning percentage of at least .750 — and San Francisco has played in all of them, the last on Dec. 15, 1997, with the 12-2 49ers vs. 11-3 Broncos.
The 49ers lost left tackle Joe Staley to a second-half leg injury.