49ers minutia: On Deebo Samuel’s strong comeback, Brandon Aiyuk’s gift from above

The San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions looked a lot like intraconference twins Sunday.

Both teams gained 11 first downs on the ground and were 6-of-12 on third downs. They each committed one turnover. The Lions finished with 442 yards of total offense. The 49ers had 413 yards. One team flourished in the first half, the other in the second.

A big difference, of course, is that the Lions turned the ball over on downs twice, while the 49ers did so once: at the end of the game with no time on the clock.

The 49ers also edged out their opponents in time of possession, holding on to the ball for 32:12. They had 66 offensive plays versus 72 for the Lions. Here’s how the individual snaps were divided …



49ers’ resounding halftime reversal against the Lions connected their past and present

Quarterback: Brock Purdy 66

Purdy distinguished himself from his Lions counterpart, Jared Goff, with his running ability and improvisational skills. He had two of the three longest runs of the contest for the 49ers, a pair of 21-yarders that helped set up touchdowns.

He also had a pair of ad-libbed completions, one in which he scrambled to his left on third down and lobbed a pass toward the middle of the field that Jauan Jennings snagged with one hand. Even better was Purdy’s Houdini-like escape from blitzing safety Ifeatu Melifonwu late in the third quarter, which led to a 10-yard completion to Kyle Juszczyk at the sideline.

Whereas Goff was 3-of-13 when pressured Sunday, Purdy was 11-of-15, albeit with an interception in the second quarter. He also absorbed several big hits, like when defensive tackle Alim McNeill beat center Jake Brendel and thumped Purdy as he was releasing a 15-yard throw to Deebo Samuel in the first quarter and when linebacker James Houston hit him late — and helmet to helmet — in the fourth quarter. The contact was so prominent that Purdy’s helmet was nearly driven off his head.

That almost certainly would have triggered a roughing-the-passer call in the regular season. Clete Blakeman’s crew, however, swallowed their whistles Sunday and called only five penalties.



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Running back: Christian McCaffrey 60, Juszczyk (fullback) 40, Elijah Mitchell 6, Samuel 1

Why didn’t McCaffrey play the final five offensive snaps? He landed hard on the side of his shoulder at the end of his 25-yard carry in the fourth quarter and said his shoulder “felt a little weird” as a result. After the game, he said he was fine but hadn’t wanted to risk any gripping issues at the game’s end, which is why Mitchell took the final few carries.

Juszczyk, meanwhile, looked like Lynn Swann as he kept his toes in bounds on the 10-yarder from Purdy in the third quarter. He also caught a 23-yard pass in the first quarter. His 33 receiving yards were his most since he had 34 against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7 last season.

Receiver: Brandon Aiyuk 56, Samuel 50, Jennings 28, Chris Conley 3, Ray-Ray McCloud III 3

Aiyuk’s 51-yard deflected pass reception seemed like a sign from above. It was the longest play of the contest for either team and the second longest of the season for Aiyuk (71 yards versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11), and it seemed to uncork the 49ers on offense and defense.

“It kind of unlocked the whole team,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said afterward. “Right after getting that turnover, I believe (Tashaun) Gipson forced the fumble — that was huge. Right after that, you could feel the whole momentum with our players, the stadium, on the sideline kind of flip. It felt like it was on after that.”

It’s noteworthy that Aiyuk and Purdy didn’t get off to a hot start. Aiyuk got the 49ers’ first catch of the day, an 11-yarder on the opening drive. But the next five that went to Aiyuk were incompletions. That includes another off-schedule attempt from Purdy that Aiyuk seemed to have a bead on but couldn’t come up with.

“That was a big one,” Shanahan said of the incompletion. “For him to come back and completely redeem himself and even more with one of the best catches I’ve ever seen, in the biggest moment — we’ll all be hugely grateful for it our whole lives.”

Samuel’s 51 snaps were 77 percent of the offensive total, which is slightly below his usual allotment. His left shoulder injury, a huge storyline when the week of practice began, didn’t seem to be much of a factor, as Samuel finished with 96 total yards, 75 of them after the initial contact.

Samuel also had one of the best postgame lines when he was asked about safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s blindside hit — on Samuel’s sore shoulder — shortly after the interception. Gardner-Johnson, with whom Samuel had feuded during the season, was penalized 15 yards for an illegal blindside block.

“You gotta get me when I’m not looking,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re gonna get me.”

Tight end: George Kittle 64, Charlie Woerner 11, Brayden Willis 3

Kittle, who hauled in Detroit’s onside kick attempt with 56 seconds remaining, noted that he had failed to secure an onside kick in Week 1 of the 2021 season in Detroit, the last time the 49ers played the Lions. The bouncing ball ricocheted off his face mask; the Lions recovered, then quickly cut the 49ers’ lead, which had seemed insurmountable minutes earlier, to 41-33.

Kittle was in nearly the same spot Sunday and this time deftly gathered the ball, which essentially secured the win. (The Lions were also called for illegal touching on the play, so any recovery by Detroit would’ve been negated.)

“I said, ‘Watch me get an (opportunity) with this’ — and I did!” Kittle said.



George Kittle, longtime 49ers make good on Super Bowl promise: ‘I will be back’

Kittle (toe) and cornerback Ambry Thomas (ankle) were the only players listed on Shanahan’s day-after-game injury report. He characterized both as day to day.

Offensive line: Trent Williams 66, Aaron Banks 66, Brendel 66, Jon Feliciano 66, Colton McKivitz 66

A fired-up Williams spoke to the offensive and defensive lines during warmups, then had one of his best games of the season. He allowed no pass pressures and came away with a 90.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, his second highest of the season (93.2 versus the Washington Commanders in Week 16).

That grade also was in stark contrast to his two previous NFC Championship Game appearances. He was playing on an injured ankle in the 2021 game and finished with a 52.5 grade. Last year, he was tossed out of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles and had a 53.2 grade. Both were the lowest of those respective seasons for Williams.

Quarterback pressures allowed:

• Williams, 0
• Brendel, 1
• Feliciano, 2
• Banks, 3
• McKivitz, 3

Banks, meanwhile, had a nice block on McCaffrey’s 1-yard score in the third quarter. Juszczyk took out the linebacker on the edge and the right-side guys — McKivitz and Woerner blocked down — and Banks pulled from his left guard spot to pave the way for McCaffrey.

Defensive line: Nick Bosa 70, Chase Young 56, Arik Armstead 53, Javon Hargrave 51, Javon Kinlaw 22, Kevin Givens 15, Randy Gregory 14, Sebastian Joseph-Day 5, Robert Beal Jr. 2

Bosa was to the defense what Williams was to the offense. He played all but two snaps and finished with two sacks and eight pressures, the most for either team.

After blitzing the Green Bay Packers just twice in the divisional round, the 49ers blitzed nine times Sunday, with linebacker Dre Greenlaw being the most frequent extra rusher.

Quarterback pressures:

• Bosa, 8
• Armstead, 4
• Hargrave, 3
• Kinlaw, 2
• Young, 1
• Greenlaw, 1

The defensive line, of course, struggled to stop the run, especially the outside runs that plagued it against the Packers. Both playoff opponents have successfully used crack tosses — when a receiver blocks down on a defensive end — against the 49ers. Like defensive coordinator Steve Wilks last week, Shanahan on Monday didn’t fault the defensive ends at the edge but rather the players who should have been in pursuit. He wasn’t happy with Jameson Williams’ 42-yard run on the opening drive and Jahmyr Gibbs’ 15-yard score in the second quarter.

“That play was disappointing to me because I thought our pursuit was as bad as it was all year — on both the two long runs,” Shanahan said. “We did get the edge, not with the defensive end because they blocked down on him, but we did it with the next guy to turn (the run) back. And when we turned it back, our pursuit wasn’t there, and that was the biggest disappointing thing about both the touchdown runs.”

Givens, Kinlaw and Young seemed like they might have had a shot to take down Gibbs before he scored had they been running harder.

Linebacker: Fred Warner 72, Greenlaw 72, Oren Burks 16

Warner had a missed tackle in the second quarter that led to a Lions first down. After that, however, he led San Francisco’s defensive charge. He finished with 13 tackles, tying his season high. For the second straight week, the 49ers had nine missed tackles. The Lions had 16.

Cornerback: Charvarius Ward 72, Deommodore Lenoir 72, Thomas 42

Here’s how much the Lions respect Ward: He was in coverage on 43 snaps Sunday, and Detroit targeted him once. Thomas, meanwhile, bounced back from his bad game against the Packers. He was targeted four times and gave up two catches for 39 yards.

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Safety: Gipson 72, Ji’Ayir Brown 72, Logan Ryan 14

When Thomas was injured and had to leave the field in the fourth quarter, his replacement wasn’t a fellow cornerback like Isaiah Oliver. It was a safety, Ryan, who played the rest of the game in the nickel position.

Ryan had one of the team’s nine missed tackles. But he also had an unheralded play at the end of the game when he tripped up Lions tailback David Montgomery at the 3-yard line. Montgomery was finished by Warner and Kinlaw for a 2-yard loss that forced the Lions to burn the first of their three timeouts. When the 49ers retrieved the onside kick, it meant the Lions could only stop the clock twice, which allowed the 49ers to take the clock to 0.00 without punting.

Special teams: Woerner 22, Willis 21, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles 21, George Odum 20, Darrell Luter Jr. 15, Conley 15, Dee Winters 14, Jordan Mason 14, Beal 13, Oliver 12, Jake Moody 12, Mitch Wishnowsky 8, Taybor Pepper 8, McCloud 8, Banks 7, McKivitz 7, Spencer Burford 7, Ben Bartch 7, Jaylon Moore 7, Warner 7, Burks 6, Lenoir 6, Gregory 5, Kinlaw 5, Thomas 5, Givens 5, Gipson 5, Ryan 4, Greenlaw 1, Bosa 1, Armstead 1, Young 1, Hargrave 1, Ward 1, Kittle 1, Juszczyk 1, Aiyuk 1, Jennings 1.

Moody’s 48-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter drifted wide right. Including the preseason — which, as fate would have it, began in Las Vegas‚ Moody has missed eight field goal attempts and one extra point. Here’s how he missed them:

  • Preseason 1: 40 yards, wide left
  • Preseason 1: 58 yards, wide right
  • Week 6: 54 yards, wide left
  • Week 6: 41 yards, wide right
  • Week 7: 40 yards, wide right
  • Week 18: 38 yards, wide right
  • Week 18: extra point, wide right
  • Divisional: 48 yards, blocked
  • Conference: 48 yards, wide right

(Photo of Deebo Samuel: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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