Santa Clara, California. — In a season in which the Detroit Lions exorcised their demons, it was the San Francisco 49ers who got their revenge, 66 years in the making, Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers overcame the same 17-point halftime deficit they lost to the Lions in the 1957 Western Conference Championship, outscoring the visiting team and reaching a Super Bowl matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, 34-31.
With the loss, the Lions have been unable to play in a Super Bowl for the 58th consecutive year of the event’s existence, and they have done so in one of the most heartbreaking ways imaginable. He leaves the franchise and the city that never stops supporting him, dreaming of a title that has eluded them since that 1957 season.
“It’s tough to lose like that,” Lions 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. You wish you could hold it all together, but that’s not the reality. We did some really good things.” , but today we didn’t do enough. It’s hard”.
It was a bitter end to what started out as a promising night. The Lions seemed to be carving a clear path to history from the jump. Taking the ball first, they wasted no time flexing their offensive muscle. After a pair of gains from running back David Montgomery and tight end Sam LaPorta, quarterback Jared Goff handed the ball to speedy receiver Jameson Williams on a late round.
Bursting down the right side of the formation, Williams cut inside behind a block from center Frank Ragnow and accelerated toward the second level. 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw made a last-ditch effort to grab Williams as he passed, but only got a handful of the jersey as the receiver broke free of the defender’s grasp, kept his balance, and ran toward the end zone. for a 42-yard score. .
The 49ers looked poised for an early counterpunch, but Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson made a deflected pass to save the touchdown at the line when Aiyuk, an All-Pro receiver, broke open on a slant with nothing but green in front of him. That left the 49ers to attempt a field goal, but kicker Jake Moody missed the 48-yard attempt wide right, giving the ball back to the Lions with quality field position.
Exploiting the lead, the Lions methodically marched 62 yards in 11 plays, extending their first-quarter lead to 14. The offense needed to convert only one-third during the drive and capped the drive with three consecutive drives, including a 1-yard scoring plunge. . by Montgomery for a 14-0 lead.
The 49ers got on the board on their next possession, cutting the Lions’ lead in half with an eight-play, 75-yard drive. Running back Christian McCaffrey proved problematic for the defense, converting a third down on the ground before breaking a tackle on a short pass for a 28-yard gain. That set up a short touchdown run for the backline two plays later.
Detroit’s offense finally hit a slump. After coming out of a third-and-long situation to keep the drive alive, they couldn’t do it a second time and were forced to punt.
But the special teams and defense supported the Lions. After punter Jack Fox pinned the 49ers deep in their own territory, the Lions’ pressure crushed the pocket on a third-and-10 snap, with defensive lineman Josh Paschal breaking up the quarterback’s tracking Brock Purdy on a pass up the middle. That caused the throw to fall short, where it was intercepted by linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez.
Capitalizing, Detroit needed just five plays to translate the play into another touchdown. LaPorta and St. Brown had combined receptions for 33 yards into the red zone, setting up a 15-yard touchdown by rookie Jahmyr Gibbs, who took a throw to the right, made 49ers safety Tashaun Gibbs miss and collected a Graham Glasgow blocking. to cross the goal line.
After the defense kept the good times going with a 3-pointer, the Lions took nearly all of the remaining five minutes off the clock and added a 21-yard Michael Badgley field goal to take a three-point lead into the half. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“It seemed like it should have been worse,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Definitely what I felt. That’s what the numbers looked like, but we were only down 17, which… that’s not too much.”
The 49ers made a dent in the deficit to open the third quarter, working quickly into field goal range behind a 26-yard pass from Purdy to Deebo Samuel before stopping and settling for a Moody field goal from 43 yards that made the score 24. -10.
A pair of Lions drops allowed the 49ers to maintain their momentum in the second half. The first came when Josh Reynolds failed to hold on to a fourth-down pass in 49ers territory, resulting in a turnover on downs. Two plays later, Purdy unleashed a deep throw to Aiyuk that bounced off the hands and helmet of Lions cornerback Kindle Vildor, who had moved into position to make the interception.
Instead, Aiyuk was able to dive and catch the deflection for a 51-yard gain, leading to a 6-yard touchdown throw to the receiver on third-and-goal. That left the Lions down a touchdown after the extra point with five minutes left in the third quarter.
“Before the game, a ladybug landed on my shoe and you all know what that means,” Aiyuk said in a post-match interview.
Detroit’s third-quarter implosion continued on the first play of the next drive, with Gipson getting some revenge on Gibbs, forcing a fumble that was recovered by 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead. And like the Lions did after their steal, the 49ers turned it into a touchdown.
“Yeah, it was a little out of character,” Goff said of the trade.
A 21-yard run by Purdy to the 4-yard line was the big play, as McCaffrey put the finishing touches on the play with a game-tying 1-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. And Detroit couldn’t shake off its poor state of self-inflicted errors, as Reynolds committed another, this time on third down, leading to a three-and-out punt.
Purdy quickly moved the 49ers downfield, in position to take the lead, but the Lions were able to limit the damage to a field goal, after dropping the quarterback for sacks on consecutive plays. Still, a 33-yard Moody boot was enough to give the 49ers their first lead of the night with just under 10 minutes remaining, 27-24.
Detroit’s response saw them work into field goal range, but instead of attempting a 48-yard score in relatively calm conditions, coach Dan Campbell opted to go for it on fourth-and-3. But when Goff’s initial read was covered and his pocket collapsed, the quarterback couldn’t get enough on a downfield throw intended for St. Brown, leading to another turnover.
“I don’t regret those decisions, and that’s hard,” Campbell said. “It’s hard because we didn’t get ahead, we couldn’t function. But I just… I don’t do it. I don’t do it. And I understand the scrutiny. I understand it. That’s part of the job.”
Pinning their hopes on a defense that had failed to stop in the second half proved fatal to Detroit’s hopes. On third-and-4 at midfield, Purdy escaped heavy pressure and ran 21 yards. McCaffrey then broke free for a 25-yard gain on the ensuing snap against the broken unit, with backup Elijah Mitchell delivering the dagger with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Lions were able to drive 75 yards in 11 plays to cut the lead to three when Goff found Williams in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left, but the 49ers recovered the necessary onside kick attempt. . tight end George Kittle to secure the victory.
The Lions end their season having broken a three-decade streak without a division title or playoff victory after earning victories over the Rams and Buccaneers in the previous two weeks, but will remain without an elusive Super Bowl appearance for at least one more year.
“I think we have a good foundation and I think Dan and (general manager) Brad (Holmes) have built this team the right way,” offensive tackle Taylor Decker said. (It’s) a team that’s going to handle adversity, that’s not going to back down, that’s going to play confidently and physically, and ultimately we just have to see if we can sustain it, because that’s going to be the mark of a real good team. “,