September 16, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) reacts after being hit in the head against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Lions 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
The good news about Sunday night's game for the Detroit Lions is that they weren't blown out like many were expecting. The bad news is that they did in fact lose. They were big underdogs going into the game, and what happened on Sunday night in San Francisco showed why. The 49ers controlled the Lions on both sides of the ball en route to a 27-19 victory. It felt a lot worse based on what transpired during the game, but the Lions only ended up losing by one score.
The start of Sunday's game went about as poorly as it could for the Lions and really set the tone for the rest of the night. The Lions went three-and-out to open the game, and San Francisco went right down the field when they got the ball. After a 29-yard end-around by Mario Manningham and a 17-yard pass to Michael Crabtree, Alex Smith found a wide-open Vernon Davis for a 21-yard touchdown. The 49ers needed only 1:12 to find the end zone and take a 7-0 lead.
Things went much better for the Lions on their next drive. After picking up a conversion on third down, the Lions gained 33 free yards thanks to a defensive pass interference call. This put the Lions in position for a field goal, and they ultimately converted one from 38 yards out after the drive quickly stalled following the penalty.
Things continued going the Lions' way on the ensuing kickoff. Tahir Whitehead stripped Kendall Hunter on the return and Kassim Osgood quickly fell on the ball for the recovery. The Lions took over at the San Francisco 25 and were in position to potentially take the lead. Unfortunately, they went three-and-out again and had to settle for another field goal. Jason Hanson made the attempt from 41 yards out by banging it in off the right upright to cut the lead to 7-6.
Riding the momentum of the two field goals and fumble recovery, the Lions came up with a big stop on third-and-one to force a punt. They took over at their own 16-yard line and had another chance to take the lead and really take over this game. That did not happen, though. Instead they turned the ball over to the 49ers on what very well may have been the worst pass of Matthew Stafford's career (see below). The ball must have slipped out of his hand, because it was an absolutely ugly pass that was picked off and returned to the Lions' 23-yard line.
The defense actually bailed out Stafford by forcing a three-and-out and holding the 49ers to a field goal. The special teams unbailed him out, though. Erik Coleman and Drayton Florence ran into David Akers on the field goal attempt, drawing a penalty that resulted in a first down for San Francisco. Two plays later, the 49ers drew a pass interference penalty on a play that shouldn't have even happened. The clock ran out on the first quarter, but the officials didn't realize this and allowed the 49ers to run another play. The pass interference penalty put San Francisco on the one-yard line, and on the very next play Frank Gore scored to make this a 14-6 game.
After the two teams traded punts, the Lions finally got something going on offense again thanks in part to gains of 11 and 24 yards on passes to Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson. The Lions' drive did once again stall, and out came Hanson for another field goal. This attempt was from 40 yards out and once again hit the right upright. This time the ball then bounced off the crossbar and out, meaning the score remained 14-6 in favor of the 49ers.
The 49ers closed out the half with a drive that was promising to start. It ended up stalling just outside of field goal range, and after a punt the Lions simply ran out the final minute of the half. They went into halftime trailing by eight points despite a really sloppy first 30 minutes.
The Lions' sloppiness continued in the second half, as evidenced by Kyle Vanden Bosch being flagged for a face mask penalty on the very first play of the third quarter. The 49ers tried some trickery and it backfired. Vanden Bosch sacked Alex Smith, but the penalty washed that out. The 49ers proceeded to march right down the field before a sack by Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams put a stop to their momentum. San Francisco was forced to settle for a field goal, and Akers' 36-yarder made it 17-6.
Stefan Logan took the next kickoff for 40 yards out of the end zone, giving the Lions' great field position. The offense made the most of it by moving into 49ers territory and down to the San Francisco 22-yard line. That's as far as they got, though, before yet another drive stalled. Hanson made another field goal to cut into the lead, but you can probably sense a theme that's developing. The Lions were able to move the ball a bit, but not into the end zone. Instead of touchdowns, they were settling for field goals and not really closing the gap all that much.
The 49ers and Lions traded field goals again on the next two drives. A few drops by the 49ers forced them to settle for a 48-yard field goal by Akers. For the Lions, they had a couple of big passes completely flip the field. Johnson picked up 26 yards on one catch and Scheffler got 13 yards on another. The Lions got all the way down to the San Francisco 21-yard line, but they once again were unable to get into the red zone. Stafford was sacked for a loss of nine yards (after a Lions challenge corrected the spot and changed it from a loss of 15 yards) on the next play, nearly taking them out of field goal range. Hanson ultimately did end up making a 48-yarder of his own, keeping this an eight-point game.
The 49ers took over with 9:16 left in the fourth quarter. On three separate occasions, the Lions' defense held San Francisco to third down. Each time, the 49ers moved the chains on passes to Michael Crabtree. He went for seven yards on third-and-seven, 16 yards on third-and-14 and 11 yards on third-and-nine. Detroit just couldn't get a key stop, and this ultimately ended up costing them any real chance of a comeback. Smith found Davis for a 23-yard touchdown shortly after the final third-down conversion, giving the 49ers a 27-12 lead with only 3:04 left in the game.
The Lions looked completely dead at the start of their next offensive possession. Stafford was sacked again, and the Lions faced a third-and-17 situation. This is when Stafford found Joique Bell on a screen. Bell blew through the defense and picked up a gain of 50 yards. Finally the Lions' offense got a big play, and one fourth-down conversion later, they finally managed to get inside the red zone. A few plays later, Stafford connected with Brandon Pettigrew for a nine-yard touchdown, keeping hopes of a comeback alive.
Needing an onside kick to have any shot of pulling off a comeback, Hanson booted the ball down the field. The 49ers didn't put anybody back, so the Lions decided to put it downfield and hope for a bounce that went their way. Unfortunately, the ball went right to a 49ers player. This allowed Smith to take a knee three times to end the game and give the 49ers a 27-19 victory.
Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh shook hands without incident after the game this year, meaning the main storyline now is actually the Lions' loss to the 49ers. On the one hand, the Lions stayed within one possession of what may be the best team in the NFL, and they did this on the road in a hostile environment without 75 percent of their starting secondary. On the other hand, Stafford looked shaky yet again and the Lions allowed little mistakes like penalties and their inability to get a key stop on third down to derail their chances of pulling off an upset. It certainly wasn't a well-played game by the Lions by any means, but then again, it could have been a lot worse.
Next Sunday the Lions will be back on the road again, this time to face a Tennessee Titans team that was outscored 72-23 in the first two weeks of the season. Needless to say, this is a game the Lions should win, and it's a game that will hopefully get them back on track.