SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers were on the brink, needing a spark to overcome a big deficit and avoid a third straight loss in the conference title game.
Brandon Aiyuk made an improbable catch that helped save San Francisco’s season.
Purdy’s 51-yard pass that deflected off a defender’s mask into Aiyuk’s hands helped the Niners rally from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Detroit Lions 34-31 on Sunday and reach the Super Bowl.
The 49ers (14-5) scored 17 points in an eight-minute span in the third quarter to tie the NFC championship game and then pulled away in the fourth quarter to earn a rematch against Kansas City after losing to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. four years ago.
“No one was angry,” Purdy said. “No one was scared. It’s football. There are a lot of experienced guys on this team, veteran guys that have been in crazy situations. We thought, ‘We have to do our job.'”
San Francisco posted the fourth comeback of 17 points or more in a conference title game thanks to some big plays by Purdy and bad mistakes by the Lions (14-6), including two missed fourth downs in goal range. field. Detroit failed to reach the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
“We’re not going to finish like this,” coach Kyle Shanahan said of the mentality at halftime. “The boys didn’t want today to be the last day. We get into a hole. “They played like that in the second half and we were able to get the ball to bounce the right way and we made up for what we did in the first half.”
After being questioned about whether he could lead a comeback, Purdy has done so twice in as many weeks. He put together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to beat Green Bay last week and then had an even bigger comeback against the Lions.
He finished with 267 yards passing and a touchdown, plus 48 yards rushing thanks to a pair of 21-yard scampers. Now the last pick of the 2022 draft will start in the Super Bowl against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
“All he’s done since he got here is play at an elite level,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “Everything starts with him. We’re lucky he’s our quarterback. He gets a lot of pressure for no reason.”
McCaffrey had two touchdown runs and little-used backup Elijah Mitchell scored on a 3-yard run to make the score 34-24 with 3:02 left as the Niners overcame the conference title game hurdle after losing the last two seasons.
“There’s been unfinished business for a while, man. Our team has been prepared for this for a long time,” Shanahan said. “It has been a long year to get to this point and we did it today. It was tough at first, but the character we have on our team, the type of guys we have, we can’t wait to get to Vegas, man.”
The Niners blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams two years ago and then were forced to play much of last year’s title loss in Philadelphia without a quarterback. functional field after Purdy injured his elbow. The opening drive and fourth running back Josh Johnson left with a concussion early in the third quarter.
But San Francisco managed to make the long journey back to this stage and is now in position to deliver the franchise its record-tying sixth Super Bowl title and first since the 1994 season.
A magical season for the Lions ended in heartbreak. Detroit remains the only team to have played every season of the Super Bowl era without reaching the final game. It looked like this might be the year to end that drought when Detroit won back-to-back playoff games after winning just one in the previous 56 seasons.
But the Lions couldn’t finish the job despite holding a 24-7 halftime lead.
“When you lose like that, it’s tough,” coach Dan Campbell said. “You feel like your heart is being ripped out. But I’m proud of that group and I’ll go anywhere with that group.”
San Francisco settled for a field goal on the first drive of the second half before the game completely changed in a four-minute span.
Campbell opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the San Francisco 28-yard line, but Josh Reynolds failed to hold on to a pass from Jared Goff, leading to a turnover.
The Lions then appeared to have a potential interception when a Purdy deep pass bit Kindle Vildor in the mask, but the ball popped and was caught for a spectacular 51-yard gain by Aiyuk.
“When I saw him catch that, I thought it was crazy,” Purdy said.
Purdy found Aiyuk three plays later for a 6-yard score.
“Before the game, a ladybug landed on my shoe. And you all know what that means,” Aiyuk said. “This is all I can say. Other than that, I don’t know.”
Jahmyr Gibbs then fumbled on the next play from scrimmage, setting up a 1-yard run by McCaffrey to tie the game at 24.
From there, things only got worse for the Lions as Reynolds dropped another pass on third down, leading to a punt that Detroit had a chance to score at the 1-yard line, but failed.
Purdy then led the Niners to a 33-yard Jake Moody field goal and their first lead of the game.
“The momentum certainly changed pretty quickly,” Goff said. “They scored, we didn’t take advantage of the fourth down, they scored again, we lost the ball. That little sequence makes it difficult.”
Campbell wasted a chance to score a game-tying field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Niners’ 30-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Goff threw an incomplete pass and the Niners scored the insurance touchdown.
Goff added a touchdown pass to Jameson Williams with 56 seconds left, but the 49ers recovered the onside kick to seal the victory. Goff finished 25 of 41 for 273 yards and a touchdown.
San Francisco’s heralded front seven had no answer in the first half for Detroit’s offensive line, which repeatedly opened big holes, giving the backs several yards even before first contact.
The Lions rushed for 148 yards in the first half, getting touchdown runs from Williams, David Montgomery and Gibbs.
Michael Badgley added a late field goal to give Detroit a 24-7 lead at the half, tying the second-most scores by a visiting team in the first half of a conference title game since the merger of the NFL and the AFL.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL