Lions Super Bowl Dreams Crushed with 34-31 Loss to 49ers in NFC Championship

The NFC Championship was a tale of two halves. And the Lions historic season came to a bittersweet end after falling short in the decisive second half, losing 34-31 to the San Francisco 49ers.

The first half belonged to the Detroit Lions. They scored 24 first-half points, converting four of their five possessions into points. The 24 points were the most they scored in the first half of any postseason game since their 1957 championship year.

They dominated on both sides of the ball on their way to a 24-7 halftime lead.

But over the first 10 minutes of the second half, they let their 24-7 lead slip away, as the 49ers added a field goal and two touchdowns (a six-yard touchdown from Purdy to Aiyuk and a one-yard run by McCaffrey) in the third quarter to tie the game heading into the fourth.

The 49ers also added a field goal to open the fourth quarter after a Lions punt, and took their first lead of the game at 27-24.

Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell elected to attempt conversions on fourth downs in the second half, where successful field goal attempts would’ve extended Detroit’s lead in one instance and tied the game at 27 in another instance. Instead, those gambles didn’t pay off and resulted in Lions’ turnovers and more 49ers points.

The icing on the cake was the Lions failed fourth-and three attempt with 7:38 remaining in the game. With Detroit down 27-24, they could have tied the game on a 47-yard field goal, but an incomplete pass from Detroit quarterback Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown turned the ball over on downs.

San Francisco then drove the ball 70 yards in seven plays to go up 34-24, marking 24 unanswered points and a successful conversion of their first five drives in the second half to stamp their ticket to the Super Bowl.

The Lions started the game with a near-perfect opening drive, going 75 yards in four plays that spanned less than two minutes. Running back David Montgomery took his first handoff four yards, then had a second run of 14 yards against a 49ers defense that gave up more than 100 yards in the divisional-round game against Green Bay on runs off the edges. All-Pro rookie tight end Sam LaPorta caught a pass for 14 yards, but it was an end-around run by wideout Jameson Williams, breaking tackles and weaving in and out of traffic on his way to a 42-yard touchdown scamper to give the Lions an early 7-0 lead.

On San Francisco’s opening drive, the 49ers were able to convert two third downs – one on a pass to receiver Brandon Aiyuk for 11 yards and another on a seven-yard run on third-and-three by Christian McCaffrey – but their drive stalled with a missed 48-yard field goal attempt by University of Michigan alum Jake Moody. The attempt came after the team failed to convert a third-and-11.

Detroit capitalized on its following drive, marching 62 yards on the legs and backs of its two-heading backfield of Montgomery and rookie phenom Jahmyr Gibbs, as the two combined for 44 yards on the drive before Montgomery punched in a one-yard score to put the Lions up 14-0 with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter.

San Fran showed the poise of a champion, responding with a drive that featured a heavy dose of their All-Pro McCaffrey, who capped off an eight-play, 75-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run up the middle.

The Lions third possession stalled out after a sack by the Niners’ star defensive end Nick Bosa sacked Jared Goff for a five-yard loss. One play later, Detroit punted the ball for the first time. But the Lions Malcolm Rodriguiz was able to intercept a Brock Purdy throw to regain possession. They immediately capitalized with a 46-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 15-yard run by Gibbs to put the Lions up 21-7.

The defense rose to the challenge of stopping San Francisco on three straight plays and couldn’t move the ball even a yard before punting the ball back to Detroit. Detroit would chew up all but 10 seconds of remainder of the half, driving all the way do to SF’s three yard line before settling for a 23-yard field goal to take a commanding 24-7 lead into halftime.

The Lions amassed more first-half rushing yards (148) against Kyle Shannahan than any other team has since he began coaching the 49ers seven seasons ago.

The 49ers opening drive in the third quarter resulted in three points with a field goal, and the Lions first drive ended on a failed fourth-down attempt, but San Fran made it a one-score game thanks to two Purdy-Aiyuk connections on their following drive.

The first connection was a 51-yard pass that ricocheted off the helmet of a Lions defensive back, where Aiyuk’s concentration on the play resulted in him making a diving grab down inside the Lions’ five yard line. Two plays later, Purdy placed a tight spiral into Aiyuk’s chest in the endzone for a six-yard score that brought the game to 24-17 midway through the third quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Gibbs fumbled, turning the ball back over to the 49ers on the Lions’ 24 yard line. It took just four plays before McCaffrey ran up the middle for his second touchdown of the game, knotting the score at 24-24 after 10 minutes of third quarter action.

To open the fourth quarter, the 49ers completed their comeback by taking their first lead, 27-24, on a 33-yard field goal by Moody. They added one more touchdown from McCaffrey, and a touchdown by Jameson Williams to make it a 34-31 game was too little, too late, for the Lions, who had just two timeouts and under one minute left in the game.

Goff ended the game completing 25-of-41 passes for 273 yards and one touchdown. Purdy was 20-for-31 for 267 yards with one touchdown and one interception. McCaffrey ran the ball 20 times for 90 yards and two scores, while Detroit rushed for 182 yards between Montgomery, Gibbs, and Williams. Lions defensive lineman Aiden Hutchinson was essentially ineffective for the majority of the game after deflecting two passes in the first quarter. He didn’t register a single tackle or quarterback hit all game.

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