The 49ers opponent started on defense, as they usually do. Once again, the 49ers gave up an opening score. David Montgomery ran up the middle for 15 yards. Sam LaPorta caught a 14-yard reception. Jameson Williams took advantage of poor tackling on his way to a 42-yard touchdown run.
It wasn’t the start defensive coordinator Steve Wilks had anticipated. Now, it’d be on Kyle Shanahan and the offense to answer. The offense got to 3rd & 9, but Brandon Aiyuk won his 1-on-1 matchup. After Brock Purdy took a shot on 2nd & 10 and completed a 15-yard pass to Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey ran for seven yards to pick up another first down.
After McCaffrey was short of the sticks on 3rd & 11, Jake Moody’s 48-yard field goal was wide right. In the NFC Championship game, you can’t give away points. The reason the 49ers drafted Moody was to be as close to automatic as it gets.
It took the Lions two plays to reach 49er territory after a 14-yard pass to Montgomery. The defense forced a 3rd & 9 but failed to get off the field after Amon Ra St. Brown took a screen pass and converted.
Randy Gregory was the culprit on the following run play. He got turned around and allowed the running back to get outside of him. The Lions went out of their way to attack the 49ers’ aggression, which worked perfectly. Detroit scored on an 11-play, 62-yard touchdown.
We’d get a chance to see the 49ers offense play from behind for the second consecutive week. Purdy used his legs to find Kyle Juszczyk for a 23-yard gain. The Niners were cooking in Lions’ territory, but it felt like the drive would be a waste if they didn’t get a touchdown.
McCaffrey had a remarkable catch and run for 28 yards before scoring a touchdown to make the score 14-7. San Francisco forced a punt, but Purdy threw the ball into triple coverage over the middle of the field on third down instead of taking the sack and accepting the punt.
That’s who Purdy has been all of his career. It’s how he made the throw to Jauan Jennings on third down a week ago. But it comes back to bite the Niners here.
Detroit gained 16, 17, and 15 on their ensuing drive to take a commanding 21-7 lead. And how do the 49ers answer? By going three-and-out. Detroit had a chance to go up three scores in the first half with under five minutes to play in the first half.
The defense had another opportunity to get off the field on 3rd & 12, but the Lions caught both linebackers on the wrong side of the formation, and Jahmyr Gibbs raced to the edge for another first down. Then, on 3rd & 18, the defense gave up another first down.
The consistent theme here was Wilks playing soft coverage and letting Goff sit back in the pocket and pick the defense a part — which he did. Unsurprisingly, the Lions converted yet another third down before the half.
The defense held, but it was 24-7 at the half. The 49ers didn’t have any margin for error moving forward.
Goff was 6-for-6 for 70 yards on third down in the first half. The Lions ran for 148 yards. Amon Ra St. Brown had 73 receiving yards. On the other side of the ball, McCaffrey only had 29 rushing yards. Brandon Aiyuk had six targets but only one reception.
The 49ers began the second half with the ball, putting it in their best player’s hands. Deebo Samuel’s reception put the Niners in the Lions’ territory, and a one-handed catch by Jauan Jennings on third down helped move the chains for the 49ers.
But, from the 25-yard line, McCaffrey didn’t touch the ball once, and the 49ers were forced to settle for a field goal attempt. Moody’s kick was good this time, and the Niners trimmed the lead to 24-10.
The Lions had 4th & 2, and instead of making it a three-possession game, Campbell went for it. Goff’s pass was incomplete, and the 49ers had life.
Deebo gained 17 yards on first down. Purdy heaved a prayer that hit the Lions’ defensive back’s face mask and into the diving hands of Aiyuk. That gain of 51 put the 49ers on the 4-yard line before Aiyuk’s touchdown. It was 24-17, and San Francisco just needed a stop.
Gibbs fumbled on the first play, thanks to Tashaun Gipson. Arik Armstead recovered the fumble, and the Niners had a short field. Purdy scrambled for 21 yards, and a McCaffrey touchdown tied the game.
Down 17 at the half, the Niners had the lead within eight minutes. And now it was back on the defense to get a stop. They forced a three-and-out. Well, kind of. The Lions dropped easy first-down passes, but the 49ers weren’t complaining.
Purdy wasn’t done using his legs. He avoided a sack despite being wrapped up and found Juszczyk for a first down. Shanahan dialed up a beautiful concept that had George Kittle 1-on-1, and he won that matchup on the way to a 28-yard gain.
Purdy ran for another first down, then took a bad sack on the next two plays. On the first, Purdy has to throw the ball away — whether at the receivers’ feet or out of the back of the end zone. On the second sack, it’s a ball designed to come out quickly before the pressure gets home.
Moody’s field goal was good, and the Niners had their first lead of the game, 27-24.
A fourth-quarter lead in the NFC Championship is all you can ask for. This is the spot the Niners wanted to be in because that’s when their defensive line is at its best. Could they come through and make a play?
Jameson Williams beat Ambry Thomas on a deep, in-breaking route for an explosive play. Montgomery ran for 16 yards on the next play, taking advantage of Young being over-aggressive. Thomas was banged on a flea flicker. Logan Ryan came in for Brown, Darrell Luter played in the slot, and Deommodore Lenoir stayed outside.
On 4th & 3, you knew Campbell was going for it. Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave both won their matchups and came up with the biggest stop of the year.
Now, it was on offense to ice the game away. ON 3rd & 4, Purdy scrambled for 21 yards. His knack for making a big play with his legs is unparalleled to what the 49ers have had under center. McCaffrey ran for 25 yards on the next play. And Elijah Mitchell’s first carry of the game went for six. The 49ers scored 27 unanswered points to take a 10-point lead, 34-24.
Could the Niners’ defense hold? Sam Laporta picked up a first-down reception on third down; then Josh Reynolds had a 25-yarder that put him inside the red zone. It was 1st & goal from the 9 with over a minute to play. An eight-yard gain on 2nd and goal brought the ball to the one-yard line.
It came down to 4th & goal after the run defense stuffed the Lions on third down. Goff completed a high pass to Williams to make the score 34-31. Kittle recovered the onside kick, and the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.
They’ll need to beat Patrick Mahomes.