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Turnovers are keying 49ers’ success again

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Doing it with ‘D’: Carlos Rogers had a fumble return for a touchdown that was part of a dominating defensive effort by the 49ers on Sunday. - RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS
  • Ray Stubblebine/reuters
  • Doing it with ‘D’: Carlos Rogers had a fumble return for a touchdown that was part of a dominating defensive effort by the 49ers on Sunday.

The 49ers defense has a little inside game of its own going on in practice each week to force as many turnovers as possible to prepare for more of the same come Sunday.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman claims his unit had nine turnovers during one such session recently — though quarterback Alex Smith begs to differ, calling that number inflated.

The total hardly matters, it’s the principle.

“We go out and try to make as few mistakes as we possibly can,” Bowman said. “We work on it every single day. We see where we end up and go into the game with that type of mindset.”

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t keeping track of turnovers in practice, though he loves the intense competition by his players leading up to games — and he’s certainly thrilled that his defense delivered once again with an interception and forced the New York Jets into three lost fumbles in Sunday’s 34-0 win at the Meadowlands.

“It’s the practice of the fundamentals of recovering footballs, diving on mistakes, clubbing, ripping, jarring the ball loose,” Harbaugh said Monday of what goes into the preparation. “They treat each other with a great amount of respect, which I’ve always admired about our team. They enjoy the competition. It’s competitive but not self-centered.”

The dominant performance by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s crew kept the Jets out of the red zone all day, and further established the 49ers (3-1) as one of the NFL’s elite teams even after that blip at Minnesota in a 24-13 Week 3 loss.

The Niners had 38 takeaways during the 2011 regular season to only 10 turnovers. Their plus-28 turnover differential matched the 2010 Patriots for the second-best mark in NFL history since 1941.

This opportunistic defense prides itself on wreaking havoc from every direction, from so many positions and faces. That keeps any offense guessing with so many defenders who can change the momentum just like that.

San Francisco managed its first shutout on the road since Jan. 6, 2002, at New Orleans, limiting the Jets to just 145 total net yards of offense — the Niners’ lowest total net yards allowed since giving up only 109 on Jan. 3, 2010, at St. Louis.

“We were able to get pressure on [Sanchez], make his throws hard, and get sacks. I think we did a good job,” said Aldon Smith, whose 14 sacks last season were a 49ers rookie record. “After the last game, some people questioned us. We know what we are capable of. We are a good defense that plays well together.”