SANTA CLARA -- The play started out so simply.
Matt Breida took the hand-off around the right end and headed through a hole. Block after block opened up some breathing room as he hit the 35, 40, 45 and 50. As he approached the Lions’ 45, the 49ers running back cut to the left, and it was on.
After starting well outside the right hash, the second-year pro out of Georgia Southern kept going left, crossing all the way to the far side of the field, searching for more open space.
“It was just a great job by the O-line, they were blocking well all game and they just opened up a huge hole on that play, and I just followed Pierre [Garcon] to the end zone. He became my fullback essentially down the field,” Breida said following the 49ers' 30-27 win over the Lions at Levi's Stadium. “Those guys blocked their butts off all game.”
Garcon engaged his defender at the 40-yard line, and kept his man at bay as Breida used his block to perfection. The duo weaved back and forth, keeping Lions defensive back Nevin Lawson on skates -- 35, 30, 25, 20.
As Breida approached the final 10 yards, rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis flew in from the right to help seal off the last defender. The end result was Breida's career-long 66-yard touchdown scamper that shifted the momentum of the game in the 49ers' favor. His 138 yards rushing yards on just 11 carries also were a career best.
This wasn’t the plan coming into the season. Veteran Jerick McKinnon was supposed to be the featured back, but after he tore his ACL one week before the season started, the 49ers have had to adjust on the fly. Alfred Morris was brought in to eat carries, but Breida’s running style fits 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s system very well.
“Whenever a great player like that goes down, it’s next man up,” Breida said of the loss of McKinnon. “We want to prove that our team is just as good on that second depth or third depth.”
Through two games, Breida has 22 rushes for 184 yards. He’s averaging a healthy 8.4 yards per carry and looks primed to take on more touches.
“For Matt being a smaller guy, he gets downhill and will deliver a blow,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I thought they played tremendous today. I thought the O-line gave them great lanes. Fullbacks and tight ends were blocking their ass off. It all plays together.”
The plan remains for the 49ers to use a running back by committee system, but Breida is the hot hand. A few more games like Sunday’s, and he might play himself into a more permanent position.