The Dan Campbell era did not get off to the greatest start. The Detroit Lions looked outclassed in most ways on Sunday, but a late surge at least made the end of the game entertaining and showed the Lions didn’t have any quit in them.
The defense, specifically, struggled against a lethal Kyle Shanahan offense, while the offense couldn’t capitalize on some early opportunities. Detroit was able to keep the game close deep into the second quarter, but the floodgates opened around the two-minute warning. An unbelievable comeback ensued late for the Lions, but Jared Goff and the Lions came up 24 yards of tying the game.
Here’s how the game progressed.
The Lions’ offense got the crowd fired up early. A 10-yard run from Jamaal Williams followed by a 22-yard pass play to T.J. Hockenson go the Lions in 49ers territory in just two plays. However, the Lions would only pick up 9 yards on the next three plays. That set up head coach Dan Campbell with his first difficult decision: attempt a 53-yards with new kicker Austin Seibert, punt, or go for it. The Lions opted to go for it, but Williams stumbled out of the backfield and lost a yard on the play, turning the ball over on downs.
But the offense got the ball right after Jimmy Garoppolo fumbled his very first snap of the game. Unfortunately, the Lions failed to take advantage. Detroit would stall quickly and have to settle for a 51-yard field goal. Seibert pushed it wide left, giving the 49ers the ball back right around where they turned it over.
The 49ers took advantage of the Lions’ mistakes with a seven-play, 59-yard drive. Detroit got themselves into a third-and-7 in the red zone, but Garoppolo found Mohamed Sanu for a 7-yard gain with Jeff Okudah breaking late on the route. On the very next play, rookie quarterback Trey Lance came in and threw a 5-yard touchdown to Trent Sherfield. 7-0 49ers.
The Lions’ offense retaliated with another promising drive. Thanks to a couple of decent runs and a clutch third-down conversion from Hockenson, Detroit worked their way into the red zone. Facing another tricky decision, Campbell decided to go for it again on fourth-and-1. This time Jared Goff found Tyrell Williams for the first down as the first quarter came to an end.
On the third play of the second quarter, Goff found T.J. Hockenson for the first Lions touchdown of the Campbell era, tying up the score 7-7.
The 49ers quickly took the lead back thanks to two explosive plays. Garoppolo found a wide open Deebo Samuel for a 29-yard gain, and two plays later 49ers backup running back Elijah Mitchell (Raheem Mostert was injured earlier) took a pitch 41 yards for the score. 14-7 49ers.
Detroit continued to see success on the ground against a solid 49ers defense. Swift had back-to-back rushes of 16 and 15 yards, as the Lions worked their way into 49ers territory for the fourth time in four attempts. The drive stalled shortly thereafter, but this time Seibert was good from 49 yards, cutting San Francisco’s lead to four. 14-10 49ers.
San Francisco continued to assert its dominance on offense. Helped out by a personal foul penalty on Charles Harris, Garoppolo easily drove the 49ers downfield on a seven-play, 75 yard drive capped by a JaMycal Hasty 4-yard touchdown run. Three consecutive touchdowns by the 49ers offense. 21-10 49ers.
The Lions tried to work a two-minute drill to cut the lead before the half, but Goff, instead, made a critical error that blew the game open. On a third-and-8, Goff tried to squeeze a ball into tight coverage, but Dre Greenlaw picked it off and took it to the house. 28-10 49ers.
And the 49ers weren’t done. The Lions’ offense went three-and-out on their second two-minute drill attempt after Goff was sacked on second down. Another personal foul on the defense set the 49ers up in Lions’ territory. San Francisco would convert on a 40-yard field goal to end the drive, taking a 31-10 49ers lead into the half.
The 49ers picked up right where they left off, with Garoppolo connecting with George Kittle for 35 yards on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. The Lions finally stopped the bleeding with a stop thanks to an intentional grounding. Robbie Gould stepped in to attempt a 52-yard field goal but pushed it right.
Detroit’s offense was aided by a 15-yard penalty after Tyrell Williams got hit high on an incomplete pass. The hit sent Williams—the Lions’ top receiver—to the locker room. Detroit would punt three plays later after gaining just 1 more yard.
The Lions finally got themselves into a positive situation, forcing San Francisco into a third-and-9. Detroit sent pressure, but Garoppolo got a jump ball off, and Jeff Okudah didn’t turn his head and find it. Instead, Deebo Samuel caught it and turned it into a 79-yard touchdown. 38-10 49ers.
The Lions responded quickly with a perfectly-timed screen pass against a 49ers blitz. Swift took it 43 yards and to the house. 38-17 49ers.
Detroit’s defense forced the 49ers’ first punt of the day after stuffing Lance on a third-and-1, giving the ball back to the offense just before the third quarter expired.
Goff and the Lions’ offense couldn’t take advantage, going three-and-out quickly, with Nick Bosa notching his first sack of the season on third down.
The 49ers managed to get a field goal in their next drive, but the news was that Jeff Okudah suffered a lower-body injury and had to eventually be carted to the locker room. Kevin Strong was also injured on the play. 41-17 49ers.
The offenses of each team would trade unsuccessful drives the rest of the way, but the Lions would eventually add a garbage-time touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown run to Jamaal Williams and a two-point conversion to Hockenson. 41-25 49ers.
Or was it garbage time….
The Lions recovered an onside kick, then proceeded to add another score and two-point conversion bringing it to a one-score game with 1:07 left. 41-33 49ers.
Detroit failed to convert a second onside kick, but with three timeouts, they could still get the ball back with a three-and-out. Detroit topped that, forcing a fumble on third down and giving Goff a shot from his own 30 with 52 seconds left plus a timeout.
Goff got the Lions to midfield with a nice connection to Amon-Ra St. Brown. Then a big 25-yard connection got Detroit down to the 49ers 25-yard line with 32 seconds left. But Detroit could only muster a single yard as Goff’s final passing attempt fell incomplete on fourth-and-9.
The Lions simply did not look like the better team on Sunday. Their defense basically failed to stop the 49ers for the first three quarters of the game, while the offense was incapable of creating big plays through the passing game until the 49ers were in prevent.
If there was one positive to take from the game, the Lions were successful on the ground, rushing for 105 yards on 4.8 yards per carry. It was also nice to see the Lions compete to the end, but there are still a lot of issues with this team that need cleaning up.