We knew it could get ugly for the Detroit Lions this season, and we knew it could get ugly in a hurry against a team that has Super Bowl aspirations like the San Francisco 49ers.
Detroit had opportunities to put itself in a better position to win with some aggressive playcalling and early turnover fortunes in their favor, but self-inflicted miscues like missed field goals and falling victim to the turf monster prevented the Lions from capitalizing on their chances.
A valiant and gritty effort—along with some luck on special teams down the stretch—gave the Lions a chance to come back in this game, but they ended up coming just short. Should Detroit manage to keep a competitive spirit from start to finish, as they did in this one, they’ll be in a lot more games this season than most expect them to be.
Let’s check in on some players who saw their stock rise—or fall—in today’s regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Stock Up: Jamaal Williams, RB
Just before the start of Sunday’s game, Williams was named the starter, but both he and D’Andre Swift received a hefty workload. Williams came out hot, gaining a first down on the team’s offensive play, and his consistent play continued throughout this one.
We see you o-line @jswaggdaddy takes it for 2⃣0⃣#SFvsDET | FOX pic.twitter.com/aMrDhoLYCP— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 12, 2021
If there was an encouraging aspect of this Lions offense in Week 1, the running game looks like it could be a real asset to this team, but that will only be the case so long as the passing game makes improvements. Regardless, 110 yards on just 17 touches is the kind of production you’d love to get out of any running back.
Stock Down: Jared Goff, QB
Stopping this 49ers’ pass rush was an already difficult challenge facing the Lions in their regular-season opener, but after Taylor Decker was ruled out and Detroit was forced to shuffle around their offensive line, it looked like things could get ugly in a hurry.
Did you start the @49ers defense in @NFLFantasy?— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
Because they're SCORING. @49ers | #FTTB | @dregreenlaw
: #SFvsDET on FOX
: NFL app pic.twitter.com/FeYpG07QEw
For the most part, the offensive line did a commendable job giving Goff time to operate. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn was creative and had a great game plan in place, but Goff just failed to execute at critical points. Missed throws—the wheel route to Amon-Ra St. Brown stands out—a pick-six to Dre Greenlaw—and his unwillingness to challenge a shorthanded San Francisco secondary was disappointing, to say the least.
Stock Up: T.J. Hockeson, TE
.@JaredGoff16 @TheeHOCK8 for the score#SFvsDET | FOX pic.twitter.com/3HRaBKzGxe— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 12, 2021
On this week’s preview podcast, First Byte, one of the things I thought I knew would be the 49ers' ability to take away Hockenson, the Lions' best-receiving threat, through scheming and the perfect player to counter him in linebacker Fred Warner.
Instead, Hockenson had a great showing in the season opener, hauling in eight catches (a career-high) for 97 yards and a touchdown. If there’s a Lions player that deserves an extension to ensure he’ll be a part of the team’s future, it’s Hockenson.
Stock Down: Jeff Okudah, CB
The offseason development of Okudah was one of the most encouraging stories out of training camp. His growing pains showed up in the preseason, but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn wanted people to focus on the positives of Okudah’s play, not the one play where he made a mistake.
Jimmy G ➡️ Deebo Samuel for 79 yards! // Tuck ya in ⛓ #49ers || #FTTB || #Deeboszn pic.twitter.com/PAnsLhVG3D— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers_) September 12, 2021
Those mistakes were hard to ignore against the 49ers, especially on a 79-yard pass and catch from Jimmy Garoppolo to Deebo Samuel. Okudah was in a good position until the catch point, but he couldn’t make the play in a situation where he needs to make a play.
Okudah did make a play in coverage later against Trent Sherfield, so there were some things to be encouraged by, but an injury early in the fourth quarter prevented him from returning in this one—and getting carted off nonetheless is not a good sign for a player who needs reps.
D’Andre Swift, RB: Losing the starter designation to Williams wasn’t a knock to Swift’s confidence. He looked like the shifty, dynamic runner he did at times a year ago despite missing the entire preseason with a groin injury. He did have one bad drop, but he made up for it with a 43-yard reception for a touchdown in the second half.
Penei Sewell, LT: There were a couple of bad plays, but the rookie looked much better in his regular-season debut than he did all throughout the preseason—especially when you consider he was matched up against Nick Bosa.
Jamie Collins, LB: Collins showed awareness early on when he jumped on a fumble on the 49ers' first play from scrimmage.
Trey Flowers, EDGE: Flowers was stout all game long, but a forced fumble where he punched out the ball from Samuel to keep the Lions in the game was the kind of impact play you want from one of your highest-paid players.
Anthony Pittman, LB: It seemed like Pittman was in on a lot of plays, making tackles in kickoff coverage.
Kalif Raymond, WR: Three catches for 50 yards, including a big-time catch to help set up the Lions' last score, was an impressive debut for this receiver.
Tracy Walker, S: Walker made an impact play when he needed to when he got home to Garoppolo for a sack.
Quintez Cephus, WR: What a couple of catches from Cephus—a touchdown catch on a jump ball and a picture-perfect toe-tap on a two-point conversion—down the stretch to give the Lions a glimmer of hope.
Derrick Barnes, LB: Here’s to hoping we get to see more of Barnes earlier in the game after he made a great play against the run late in this game.
Godwin Igwebuike, RB: A bit of a surprise to get the gameday nod over Jermar Jefferson, Igwebuike earned return duties and muffed a kick return when it was kicked shallow and could have been an opportunity for good field position—and then nearly botched the recovery on a squib kick just before the half.
Charles Harris, EDGE: Earning the nod over Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara seemed like a vote of confidence for the veteran, but a roughing-the-passer penalty helped jump-start a 49ers scoring drive.
Jonah Jackson, LG: Jackson allowed a sack and had a holding penalty in the fourth quarter that cost the Lions a first down.
Will Harris, S: A missed tackle on Elijah Mitchell’s 38-yard touchdown run could’ve kept six points off the board, but then things got worse when his facemask penalty during the 49ers final drive of the half gave the 49ers great field position.
Matt Nelson, RT: Nelson is still learning the position, and that much was clear from his play in Week 1. One of the worst sequences: a sack allowed to Dee Ford and then a holding penalty the very next play.
Amani Oruwariye, CB: A nice pass breakup on San Francisco’s last-minute drive in the first half almost resulted in an interception, but Oruwariye was beaten early on a route by Sherfield to the corner for a touchdown.
Alex Anzalone, LB: The 49ers run game was so effective on Sunday, and much like the preseason, linebackers—Anzalone in particular—were getting washed out of plays by San Francisco linemen. He missed some tackles, too.
Jason Cabinda, FB: While there were some ups from Cabinda in his blocking, the biggest opportunity for Cabinda was a chance to convert an easy third-and-1 play, but he outright dropped the ball.
Austin Seibert, K: He missed a 51-yard field goal when the Lions had a chance to take an early lead off a turnover.