49ers report card for epic comeback over Lions: High marks for coaching adjustments

SANTA CLARA – Here is how the 49ers graded in Sunday’s 34-31 NFC Championship win over the Detroit Lions at Levi’s Stadium:

PASS OFFENSE: B-

Brock Purdy, in a second straight playoff comeback, overcame an erratic first half (7-of-15, 93 yards, interception) by eventually rediscovering his record-setting Pro Bowl form. He was 13-of-16 for 174 yards after halftime, and a 51-yard bomb to Brandon Aiyuk set up a 6-yard third-down touchdown pass that Purdy threaded to Aiyuk, pulling them within 24-17. Aiyuk caught that 51-yard heave once it ricocheted off the facemask of a Lions cornerback. The ball bounced the 49ers’ way, finally. Deebo Samuel, after a week of heavy rehab on his left shoulder, came through with a team-high 89 yards, catching eight of nine targets. Not to be overlooked were clutch catches from Kyle Juszczyk (two for 33 yards), George Kittle (two for 27 yards) and Jauan Jennings (8-yard jump ball). Purdy’s protection faltered at times, and although back-to-back sacks forced them to settle for a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, he also made some fantastic escapes from the collapsing pocket. His lone interception came when his hand was hit as he threw, and the Lions converted that turnover into their third touchdown and a 21-7 lead.

RUN OFFENSE: C+

Christian McCaffrey ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and his second touchdown came on a 1-yard plunge to tie the score at 24. More stunning were Purdy’s open-field dashes en route to 48 yards. A 21-yard scramble by Purdy was followed by a 25-yard run from McCaffrey and a 3-yard scoring run by Elijah Mitchell for insurance points they would need. McCaffrey’s shoulder felt “a little weird” after his run, so rather than risk a fumble, he cheered on Mitchell for the 49ers’ final touchdown. Rather than be overcome with emotion on his tying touchdown or that 25-yarder to help clinch the win, McCaffrey focused on the next play, until there were no more. “You don’t really feel a lot of the emotion that the people in the stands do, because you’re locked into doing your assignment,” McCaffrey said. “That’s why we orchestrated a pretty good comeback, because everybody was just focused on doing right longer.”

PASS DEFENSE: C

The 49ers forced fourth-down incompletions from Jared Goff as the Lions went for it from the 49ers’ 28- and 30-yard lines in the second half, helping swing the momentum to defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ unit. But that didn’t wipe away the memories from their lackluster first half, where a four-man pass rush and simple coverage did not fool Jared Goff from outmaneuvering the 49ers. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta had 118 yards combined in the first half on nine receptions. They finished with 16 for 185 yards. Goff, to his credit, threaded some nice passes into his receivers’ mitts, and a couple of drops helped doom them. Bosa had the 49ers’ two sacks (both in the first half), and now he can set his sights on a “perfect” Super Bowl rematch with Patrick Mahomes.

RUN DEFENSE: D

First half: 148 yards allowed, 7.0 yards per carry, three touchdowns.

Second half: 34 yards allowed, 4.3 yards per carry, no scores, one fumble (forced by Gipson, recovered by Arik Armstead, setting up McCaffrey’s tying touchdown)

Look, the 49ers had multiple breakdowns on the majority of their first-half plays, and Bosa claimed it was just one guy each time messing up either his assignment or tackle. But the 49ers must tighten that up and they must brace for a more potent offensive attack. Fred Warner made a team-high 13 tackles, and although he missed a couple, “Fred played to me like an NFL defensive MVP,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “…You hope when you have players like that, they do it in these type of games. Fred did. That’s one of the reasons we’re still playing.”

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

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Photos: San Francisco 49ers beat the Detroit Lions to win NFC Championship and head to Superbowl LVIII

George Kittle retrieved the Lions’ last-minute onside kick and took that ball as a sweet memento, after failing to pull off that feat in his last opportunity, which was coincidentally the 2021 opener at Detroit. Rookie Jake Moody’s wide-right miss on a 48-yard attempt on the 49ers’ first series compounded the first-half gloom, but Moody rebounded with a 43-yarder on the first series after halftime, as well as a go-ahead chip shot from 33 yards with 9:52 left.

COACHING: B+

When Shanahan sidled up to embattled defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as the Lions settled for a field goal and 24-7 lead before halftime, I asked on Twitter/X what fans thought Shanahan told Wilks. “You’re fired,” was how the vast majority answered. Only that’s not what Shanahan did, and, in turn, the coaching staff rallied after halftime. Wait, but Shanahan teams never come back, right? Well, that’s two playoff games won by second-half rallies, and this was a 17-point comeback that matched the 2019 team’s efforts for the largest in a NFC title game. Said Deebo Samuel: “Coach Wilks came in at halftime, and Coach Kyle came in at halftime and were like, ‘Yo, it’s time to man up and get stops. And it’s time for the offense to do what we do.’” It worked.

They lived to play another day – for the Lombardi Trophy.

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