DETROIT -- The 49ers held a 28-point lead midway through the third quarter and were cruising.
Then, things shifted suddenly, and the 49ers had to hold on for dear life to stave off the charging Detroit Lions for a 41-33 victory on Sunday at Ford Field.
There was nothing to celebrate after this victory, as the 49ers fear they have lost cornerback Jason Verrett to a torn ACL -- an injury that occurred in the fourth quarter.
Here is the 49ers’ report card from their Week 1 win:
Rookie Elijah Mitchell was pressed into duty when starter Raheem Mostert exited with a knee injury in the first quarter. Mitchell showed the explosiveness that prompted the 49ers to select him with their final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft even though they added Trey Sermon in the third round.
Mitchell gained 104 yards on 19 rushing attempts with a 38-yard touchdown run. Mostert had two carries for 20 yards before his injury. Rookie quarterback Trey Lance had three rushing attempts but managed only 2 yards.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Lance combined for a 136.5 passer rating. Garoppolo started and played well. He completed 17 of 25 pass attempts for 314 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Lance’s only pass attempt went for a 5-yard touchdown to Trent Sherfield.
Deebo Samuel had a career-high 188 yards, but his late-game fumble after converting on a third-down pass play gave the Lions one final opportunity to tie the game. The pass protection was solid, as Garoppolo was sacked just once and generally had enough time to get the ball down field.
The 49ers’ run defense has plenty to tighten up heading into their Week 2 game at the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions averaged 4.8 yards per rushing attempt. They had way too much success running the ball, starting with Jamal Williams’ 10-yard run on the first play of the game.
Williams gained 54 yards on nine carries with a touchdown. D’Andre Swift added 39 yards on 11 rushing attempts.
The 49ers’ pass defense had the upper hand for most of the game until the final few minutes, when Detroit quarterback Jared Goff rallied his team to within eight points. Goff completed 38 of 57 pass attempts for 338 yards and three touchdowns. But 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw had an interception and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Edge rusher Dee Ford had a big game with pressure that led to Greenlaw’s pick as well as a sack. Kentavius Street and Nick Bosa also registered sacks.
Kicker Robbie Gould made field goals of 40 and 52 yards while also missing from 52. It was a quiet day for Mitch Wishnowsky, who netted a 38.0 average on two punts. Tight end George Kittle was part of the hands team, but he did not have much of a chance against Austin Seibert’s successful onside kick, which took a big hop and struck him in the facemask. The return game did not give the 49ers much, but they did not give up anything, either.
The 49ers came out firing against the Lions and built a 38-10 lead midway through the third quarter. Then, they took their foot off the pedal. The 49ers started subbing out some of their regulars, including Bosa and Fred Warner. You can second-guess Kyle Shanahan for not getting Jason Verrett out of the game, too.
But, at the same time, what followed shows why coaches are reluctant to take starters out of the game. The Lions rallied and made for some uneasy moments late in the game. There is plenty for defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to clean up following his first game in charge.
Offensively, Shanahan ran the risk of breaking the team’s momentum with his insertion of Lance into the lineup. But, then, Lance rewarded him with a touchdown pass.
This is a tough one to sort out. The 49ers looked so good for 3 1/2 quarters. The Lions, conversely, looked so bad. The 49ers won the game. But, man, was it bittersweet. The most bitter taste comes, not from the near-collapse in the fourth quarter, but from Verrett’s injury, which will have a huge impact on the team for the remainder of the season.