The five plays that turned the NFC Championship Game in the 49ers’ favor

In the postgame euphoria of a 34-31 NFC Championship Game win over the Detroit Lions, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan made it all sound so matter-of-fact.

A 24-7 deficit wasn’t a death knell. It was “only” 17 points.

“A 17-point game was encouraging,” Shanahan said in the interview room at Levi’s Stadium. “It looked like it should have been worse. Definitely how it felt. That is how the numbers looked. But we were only down 17, which is not too much.”

True enough. Less than 10 minutes into the third quarter, the 49ers were within 24-17 and it was tied going into the fourth. After the first two possessions of the fourth quarter, the 49ers held a 34-24 lead.

Here is how it went down:

1. Goff’s misfire

The setting: Lions ball, second-and-6 at 49ers’ 16, 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Lions lead 21-7.

The play: Forget about this one? The Lions, having already accumulated 268 yards of total offense, are threatening. Quarterback Jared Goff, with Jahmyr Gibbs to his right, takes a shotgun snap. Gibbs runs a route toward the middle of the field and gets behind Fred Warner. Goff has ample time, but misses the throw for an easy touchdown. Michael Badgley eventually kicks a 21-yard field goal for a 24-7 lead, which is less demoralizing heading to the half than 28-7. It was a minor victory for the 49ers’ defense. More were to come.

2. The drop

The setting: Lions ball, fourth-and-2 at 49ers’ 28-yard line, 7:03 remaining in third quarter. Lions lead 24-10.

The play: After the 49ers opened the second half with a 43-yard field goal by Jake Moody, Detroit drives into 49ers territory and faces a fourth-and-2. Goff ducks under a rush by Nick Bosa and finds Josh Reynolds open over the middle for a first down against Ambry Thomas. Reynolds reaches to his right but can’t hold it. The ball goes over on downs. “He made a mistake. We had plenty of mistakes out there. I missed throws. I took sacks. He made a mistake, and it happens,” Goff said.

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3. Good fortune or bold strike?

The setting: 49ers ball, first-and-10 at 49ers’ 45, 6:29 remaining in third quarter, Lions lead 24-10.

The play: Brock Purdy, out of the shotgun, sees a safety cut off a crossing route to Deebo Samuel, opening the middle of the field for Brandon Aiyuk one-on-one with Kindle Valor. Valor plays the route perfectly behind Aiyuk, but the ball strikes his facemask on the backpedal. It ricochets to Aiyuk, who catches it and is down at the 6. Aiyuk credits a pregame ladybug for good luck. It sets up a touchdown pass from Purdy to Aiyuk on third-and-goal from the 6. The 49ers are within 24-17 with 5:17 left in the third quarter. “B.A. is one-on-one. I’m going to take that opp. Especially in this kind of game, we needed that kind of play. Yeah, so people can say what they want. I was giving my guy a shot and it worked out,” Purdy said. The 49ers are within 24-17.

4. The Gip strip

The setting: Lions ball, first-and-10 at Lions’ 25-yard line, 5:15 left in the third quarter. Lions lead 24-17.

The play: Goff, under center, hands off to Gibbs on a basic inside run. The handoff wasn’t smooth, Gibbs angled slightly to his right while being hit by Dre Greenlaw, and Tashaun Gipson strips the ball. Arik Armstead recovers the fumble. It sets up a short-field drive at the Detroit 24. A pass to George Kittle loses a yard, and Purdy scrambles 21 yards to the 4. Christian McCaffrey eventually scores from the 1 and the game is tied with 3:02 left in the third quarter. “This will be my third time in 12 years getting this close,” Gipson said. “I’d be lying to you if I said doubt didn’t creep in. I’m human. So, I’m just so thankful that we were able to come back, kind of slow down and play our brand of football and we were able to get a win.” The game is tied 24-24.

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5. Fourth-and-forever

The setting: Lions ball, fourth-and-3 at 49ers’ 30-yard line, 7:38 left in the fourth quarter. 49ers lead 27-24

The play: Goff, operating out of an empty backfield, drops back and is flushed to his right by Javon Hargrave and Armstead. He throws on the run toward Amon-Ray St. Brown, who found an open space. The pressure causes the pass to fall harmlessly to the ground, turning the ball over on downs to the 49ers with 7:32 remaining. It sets up a 70-yard 49ers scoring drive, including a 21-yard scramble by Purdy and a 25-yard run by McCaffrey. The 49ers lead 34-24 with 3:02 to play. “The fourth downs really came back to bite them,” Bosa said.

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