Everything That Went Wrong In The Lions Catastrophic Second Half Collapse Against The 49ers

The Detroit Lions took a 24-7 lead into halftime in Santa Clara on Sunday evening, as they stunned the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers in the first half of the NFC Championship Game.

From that point, seemingly everything that could go wrong for the Lions did go wrong, while the Niners capitalized on mistakes and managed to find big plays when they needed it in a way Detroit simply couldn’t. There will be plenty of blame to go around in Detroit, as their defense couldn’t get a stop, receivers couldn’t pull down key catches, and Dan Campbell’s decision-making on fourth down and with the clock late all contributed to a rather incredible collapse as the 49ers came back to win 34-31.

The first drive of the second half saw the Niners move it into Detroit territory, but the Lions were able to force a field goal attempt to stay ahead by two touchdowns. On the ensuing drive, the Lions continued to dominate on the ground, all the way up until some curious play-calling and decision-making put a halt to things. On 3rd and 4, the Lions chose to put receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown in the backfield instead of one of their running backs that had been eating all day, and only got two yards on an inside handoff. On 4th and 2, the ever-aggressive Dan Campbell chose to go for it, which most everyone agreed with, but put the ball in the air, with Josh Reynolds unable to haul in a difficult catch in good coverage, as Jared Goff hit him in the hands, but it was low and away and bounced to the turf.

At that point, things really started to take a turn. Brock Purdy put up a deep ball that should’ve been intercepted by Kindle Vildor became a 51-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk after bouncing off Vildor’s facemask, leading to TD a few plays later.

On the first play of the next drive, Jahmyr Gibbs put the ball on the ground after an awkward handoff exchange with Goff, with the Niners jumping on the ball to get another possession in plus-territory.

Christian McCaffrey would then punch it in for a TD to tie the game.

On the next drive, the Lions had two drops over the middle of the field on 2nd and 3rd and 10 that would’ve been first downs. The first saw Sam LaPorta unable to make a difficult catch as he got hit, followed by a stone cold drop from Reynolds while wide open.

From there, the Lions were unable to down a perfect punt by Jack Fox at the 1, as the gunner overran the ball bounding up in the air, with his momentum carrying him into the end zone for a touchback. The Niners would march for another field goal (with some more Purdy escapism along the way), taking their first lead of the ball game at 27-24.

On the next drive by the Lions, they again found themselves facing a 4th and short in field goal range and chose to go for it. Again they passed the ball, but this time the Niners got pressure on Goff and forced an incompletion that was nowhere close to a receiver.


From there, the defense finally seemed like they might get a stop, but were unable to bring down Purdy on 3rd and 4 at midfield, as he escaped a sack and broke loose for a long scramble that eventually set up an Elijah Mitchell touchdown run (after a big McCaffrey run as well) to go up 34-24.

Once again the Lions moved it into San Francisco territory on their next drive, as Goff worked it in the three-minute drill but once they got to the goal line, they stalled and on 3rd and 1 decided to run the ball with a minute on the clock, only to get stuffed. Rather than go hurry up and save their timeouts, Campbell called his first timeout, meaning even though they scored on a TD pass to Jameson Williams on 4th down, they needed to successfully get an onside kick which no one does in the NFL anymore.

After three runs to bleed out the clock, the Niners were able to celebrate a second straight comeback win and another trip to the Super Bowl, where they’ll meet the team that beat them the last time they were there, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Niners undoubtedly deserve credit for their effort in the second half. Brock Purdy made huge plays when they needed him most, especially scrambling and making plays outside of the play structure. The defense got right after being decimated in the first half and had the right design on each of the fourth down plays to force a perfect throw and catch that the Lions could not execute.

Even so, the Lions will spend the next eight months (or longer) looking back at this parade of miscues and mishaps, wondering what could’ve been if they’d just managed to secure one or two of those big plays in their favor. Campbell will have to answer endless questions about his fourth down aggression (especially when he didn’t go for it at the end of the first half in a 4th and goal from the 3), but the timeout management late was the bigger coaching mistake in my mind — along with a few “too cute” play choices, headlined by the St. Brown handoff while they were rolling on the ground otherwise.