The San Francisco 49ers are heading to the Super Bowl to face the Kansas City Chiefs after they beat the Detroit Lions in a 34-31 thriller on Sunday, coming back to outscore their opponent 27-7 in the second half en route to a victory.
In the win, the 49ers struggled in the first half, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but found a way to pull together consecutive stops and touchdown drives in an improbable second-half comeback.
Defensively, the 49ers managed to get two different fourth-down stands to stop the Lions from scoring in the second half, which could’ve been the difference in the game.
Here are three quick takeaways from the 49ers’ 34-31 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The 49ers love giving their fans heart attacks, it seems.
For the second consecutive week, the 49ers orchestrated a comeback to pull off the victory, as they beat the Green Packers 24-21 last weekend after trailing by seven entering the final quarter.
Then, this past weekend, the 49ers overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to pull off the 34-31 victory over the Lions, booking their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Now, the first-half struggles have to be evaluated, but the biggest concern with head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Brock Purdy was their struggles to win these types of games, and the duo has now brushed off those issues in consecutive weeks.
After the offense couldn’t settle in during the first half, Purdy showed off his “gamer” mentality in the second half, making play after play, both with his arm and legs, to help the 49ers score on each of their first five possessions of the half.
In the fourth quarter, Purdy made really only one or two bad decisions when taking sacks near the red zone to force a field goal attempt, but was essentially perfect in the clutch apart from that.
In the playoffs, it comes down to making plays, and the 49ers found a way to make more than their opponent down the stretch, which aided their path to victory.
As I mentioned in my three keys to win, the run game was going to be an integral factor in this game.
In the first half, the Lions dominated the run game on both sides, as David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs churned out chunk plays, both inside and outside of the tackles, and the 49ers just couldn’t get a stop.
Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey averaged under three yards per carry in the first half and couldn’t generate any explosives against Detroit’s elite run defense, leaving a cloud of doubt over the 49ers’ heads at halftime.
However, in the second half, there was a key difference between the two coaching staffs that changed the outcome of the run game in San Francisco’s favor.
Despite initially holding a 24-7 lead, the Lions ended up throwing the ball 20 times and running just seven attempts with Montgomery and Gibbs, while the 49ers threw the ball 16 times and ran it 13 times, not including Brock Purdy’s five scrambles.
While the 49ers were struggling on the ground in the first half, Kyle Shanahan remained committed to the run game, creating a balanced approach, which worked in his favor, as McCaffrey had 60 second-half rushing yards, while San Francisco was able to see better success through the air.
The Lions seemed to be too aggressive with their approach and key mistakes, such as drops, from players hurt them as the 49ers crept back.
Sure, one of Detroit’s drives involved a significant amount of passing, as they were down two scores, but the 49ers seemed more committed to the run than the Lions in the second half, which allowed them to settle down offensively.
Now, Dan Campbell has shifted the narrative about the Detroit Lions, who went from being one of the NFL’s worst teams two years ago to a top playoff contender in 2023.
However, some of his decisions on Sunday changed the outcome of the game, and not for the better in Detroit’s favor.
The true momentum-shifting play of the game came on Detroit’s first possession of the half after forcing a 49ers’ field goal, as the Lions had a 4th & 2 opportunity at the San Francisco 28-yard line up 24-10.
Now, Campbell has been one of the more aggressive coaches in the NFL and, frankly, one of the most successful at being aggressive.
Additionally, the Lions have faced issues at the kicker position this season, bringing on Michael Badgley in the middle of the year, who had made just four field goals in 2023 prior to Sunday’s matchup after going 20/24 in 2022. Badgley, a sixth-year kicker, has gone 37/48 on field goals between 40-49 yards in his career, a 77 percent mark.
But, this is the playoffs, and every point and possession matters. Had Campbell gone for the field goal and Badgley converted, the Lions would be with a three-possession lead up 27-10, changing the dynamic of the game for San Francisco, who would’ve needed more urgency.
Instead, Josh Reynolds dropped a fourth-down pass, leading to a 49ers drive that resulted in a touchdown, narrowing the game to 24-17.
Later in the game, after the 49ers had taken a 27-24 lead, the Lions were, once again, driving in San Francisco territory, reaching the 30-yard line on a 4th & 3. With another opportunity to take the points and change the direction of the game, the Lions went on fourth down and failed to convert once again.
However, the biggest controversy for the Lions came within the final minute, as Campbell decided to run the ball with David Montgomery on 3rd & Goal at the 1-yard line with 1:05 remaining.
Montgomery was stopped and Campbell burned his first timeout of the half, ultimately requiring an onside kick to have a chance at tying the score.
Had the Lions scored on third down or even not used their timeout on fourth down, they would’ve had a chance at regaining the ball with ample time left if they could get one stop as they could’ve had all three timeouts at their disposal.
Instead, by using a timeout, Campbell was left with only two, and the 49ers ran out the clock after gaining possession on the onside kick.
Had one of these decisions gone the other way, the 49ers may not be in the position they were in on Sunday. But, head coach Kyle Shanahan proved the value of coaching in the playoffs, and his team is now fighting to win a Super Bowl in two weekends.