Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Eric Williams

Eric Williams

NFC West Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Playing in the NFC Championship for the third straight year — but the first at Levi’s Stadium — the San Francisco 49ers believed home-field advantage would help push them over the top and into the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

The Detroit Lions didn’t get the memo, dominating the 49ers in the first half. It wasn’t close; Detroit was on another level.

But thankfully for the 49ers, as they proved last week in the divisional round, these games last four quarters. And in the second half, San Francisco overcame a 17-point deficit by scoring 27 straight to punch its ticket to the Super Bowl, a 34-31 victory on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

With the win, the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2019 season. It will be San Francisco’s eighth appearance in the title game, and if they win, it would be their sixth championship, tying them with the Steelers and Patriots for the most ever. 

After an uneven first half, the 49ers got a gutty performance from quarterback Brock Purdy, who finished 20-of-31 for 267 yards and a touchdown. He also had 51 rushing yards on scrambles that kept the chains moving. 

Purdy was 13-of-16 for 174 yards and a touchdown in the second half. 

“We all knew what we had to do,” he said when asked about what was said at halftime in San Francisco’s locker room. “The season’s on the line. So, I think everybody stepped up, and we played really good, complementary football from there.”

San Francisco also benefited from some fortuitous bounces in the second half, including a 51-yard reception by Brandon Aiyuk that bounced off the face mask of Detroit cornerback Kindle Vildor before settling into the talented receiver’s hands. That momentum-changing play led to an Aiyuk 6-yard catch for a score two plays later, cutting Detroit’s advantage to seven points midway through the third quarter.

Dave Helman breaks down 49ers’ win over Lions

Dave Helman breaks down 49ers' win over Lions

On the ensuing possession, safety Tashaun Gipson Jr. stripped Detroit rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs of the football and defensive tackle Arik Armstead recovered at Detroit’s 24-yard line.

Four plays later, Christian McCaffrey ran in from a yard out to tie the game at 24-all with 3:04 left in the third quarter. McCaffrey finished with 90 rushing yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. 

The 49ers took the lead for good on a Jake Moody 33-yard field goal with 9:52 left in the game and pushed their lead to 10 with an Elijah Mitchell touchdown run with just over three minutes left. After Lions QB Jared Goff threw a 3-yard touchdown pass with 56 second remaining to cut the score to 34-31, Niners tight end George Kittle recovered an onside kick to put the game away. 

Goff, a Bay Area product, completed 25-of-41 passes for 273 passing yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions. He is now 0-6 in his past six meetings against the 49ers.

Dave Helman and Carmen Vitali break down how Detroit blew a big lead

Dave Helman and Carmen Vitali break down how Detroit blew a big lead

Detroit bowled over San Francisco’s typically stingy defense to the tune of 184 rushing yards. David Montgomery finished with 93 rushing yards, while Gibbs added 45 and Jameson Williams scored on a 42-yard reverse on the opening drive. 

“You got two running backs like that, it’s thunder and lightning,” Gipson said. “Gibbs is just lightning fast and Montgomery is a heck of a player. He doesn’t get enough credit, obviously. When you’ve got two guys like that changing pace, it’s definitely tough.

“But we’ve got all-world guys like Fred [Warner], [Dre] Greenlaw and [Nick] Bosa. And once the game finally settled down, we were able to play our brand of football.”

After struggling to slow down Detroit’s explosive offense in the first half, the 49ers twice stopped the Lions on fourth down and held them to just seven points in the second half. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks made the adjustments at halftime to slow down innovative Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s scheme.

The No. 1 seed in the NFC, San Francisco proved its resiliency once again by winning a game in which it had to come from behind for a second straight week. 

Brandon Aiyuk after the 49ers’ momentous win over the Lions

Brandon Aiyuk after the 49ers' momentous win over the Lions

San Francisco’s frontline players like Deebo Samuel, Bosa, McCaffrey, Aiyuk and Kittle stepped up when the game mattered most in the second half. Samuel finished with eight receptions for 89 yards. Bosa totaled two sacks, four quarterback hits and three combined tackles. Linebacker Fred Warner led San Francisco with 13 combined tackles. 

So now the Niners turn their attention to the Chiefs, who are headed for their fourth Super Bowl in five years and will be looking to win back-to-back NFL titles.

“They’re a hell of a team,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said. “They have a hell of a coach, hell of a quarterback, hell of a defense. I haven’t gotten to see them that much this year, because we haven’t got a whole lot of crossover tape. But we already have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to look. They’ve already been doing it for a while. Since we met them in [the 2020 Super Bowl], it seems like they’ve been there ever since.

“We’ve been trying really hard to get back to that moment. We’ve been close a number of times and this time we got it done.” 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

 

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