This postseason has destroyed a lot of demons in Detroit. Not only did the Detroit Lions win their first playoff game since the 1991 season, they also made it to their first NFC Championship game since that same season. To get there though, Detroit defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 last Sunday in the NFC divisional round. This time it wasn’t a Washington opponent they were lined up against in the conference championship game, it was the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers were the top team in the NFC this postseason, and coming off a bye week they defeated the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round to host the championship game. Unfortunately for the Lions, their season would end with the 49ers beating them as the Lions blew a 17-point lead and lost the game 34-31.
Check out my winners and losers in the NFC Championship loss against the 49ers.
So far in the playoffs this season, wide receiver Jameson Williams hasn’t had any explosive plays. He has made some catches and contributed to the offense. This week, his first play with the ball was explosive as he ran 42 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions the lead 7-0.
Williams has had moments this season of explosive plays and picked the best time to have his biggest play. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has used Williams as a deep threat early on in his career, but he has gotten more carries this season and become a great threat on the ground. Williams also had two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown in the game.
Williams wasn’t the only player running the ball well on Sunday night. Running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs used every chance they were given with the football. Montgomery had 15 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown, while Gibbs had 12 for 45 yards and a touchdown.
It was a pick your poison when it came to the running offense for the Lions. Do you want an inside run between the tackles, with a bruising back? Here comes Montgomery. Do you need an outside run to set the edge? Gibbs has that and more for you. The 49ers didn’t have an answer for the Lion's rushing attack no matter who was running the football.
The 49er's biggest weakness in the game was their run defense and Detroit attacked that for all 60 minutes. When Detroit had the lead, they could lean on the run which helped them greatly. Unfortunately, when they lost the lead, they had to rely on the passing game more instead of running the football.
Poor tackling was an issue for the Detroit defense on Sunday night. For a few plays, the 49ers gained extra yardage because the Lions couldn’t wrap up their tackles and the 49ers took advantage of it and moved the chains. The Lions missed out on a few sacks as well, and 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy broke away from a few sacks and didn’t just escape, he ran the ball or threw it for a gain.
The defense not being able to tackle was a big issue in slowing down the 49ers offense. San Francisco is a tough team that isn’t easy to tackle and when given extra life, they make you pay. When you want to defeat the 49ers, you need to stop them when you have your hands on them because if you can’t, they make you pay.
It wouldn’t be winners or losers if I didn’t discuss the poor pass coverage by the Lion's defense. I will say, cornerback Cameron Sutton did have a better game than his last two weeks. He still didn’t wrap up on a tackle or two, struggled in coverage for some parts of the game, and struggled to bring down an interception early in the game. Cornerback Kindle Vildor had a chance to get a big interception in the second half and the ball bounced off his facemask and into 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk’s hands for a 51-yard gain.
Detroit’s defense allowed Purdy to go 20-for-31 for 267 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and he even had five carries for 48 yards. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel was the leading receiver for the 49ers with eight catches for 89 yards and he was a big factor for the 49ers offense as he was able to make big plays when they needed it most.
Aiyuk was contained well, as outside of that big catch, he had three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. McCaffrey had four catches for 42 yards as he was explosive when catching the football.
4th Down Attempts
You can argue Lions wide receiver Josh Reynolds should have caught two critical catches. Also, Gibbs shouldn’t have fumbled the football, and the offense should not have just deflated. I understand that perspective, but when you are up by 14 points, in field goal range, in the NFC Championship game, you take those points to make it a 17-point game and a three-score lead. Lions head coach Dan Campbell is an aggressive coach and is known to go for it on fourth down but this was too much.
If the Lions kick the field goal to go up by 17 in the third quarter, it makes it 27-10. Then in the fourth quarter, if the Lions kicked it, it would have tied the game up at 27. In the end, the Lions could have had a 37-34 lead in the fourth quarter but instead, they lost by three points. The field goals weren’t from a very far distance either, both were in kicker Michael Badgley’s range as well. Campbell picked the worst time to be too aggressive and it cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl. This doesn’t mean Campbell deserves to get fired or that I want big changes, but his aggressiveness needs to be toned down when the situation is different.
You have to understand that in a big moment, a big game like this, points matter. If you don’t trust Badgley to make a field goal under 50 yards, that is a problem and while it’s something you might not like, you need to trust it when it matters most. They kicked a big field goal against the Los Angeles Rams in the wildcard and look how that turned out—oh and it was from over 50 as well. Aggressiveness is great until it doesn’t work and tonight it didn’t just fail, it cost this team a chance at winning a Super Bowl.