Kyle Shanahan

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers saved by late holding call in win over Lions

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers saved by late holding call in win over Lions

SANTA CLARA -- The collective gasp could be heard all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday as Lions defensive back Tracy Walker stepped in front of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass in the flat with the 49ers leading by three and just 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. 

From up 17 points in the early fourth quarter, to almost certain defeat in a matter of moments.

In case you missed it, the story doesn’t end in crushing defeat for the 49ers, but in a 30-27 win. It turns out that somewhere in the middle of the field, Lions safety Quandre Diggs was holding on to 49ers tight end George Kittle. 

The savior of San Francisco was not one play or one person: It was a tiny weighted yellow flag sitting in the middle of a sea of finely groomed grass. 

“Very happy, yeah. I didn’t see what happened with the flag and everything, but, yeah, very happy,” Garoppolo said at his postgame scrum.

Garoppolo hadn’t seen the holding call that completely changed the trajectory of the game. He was too busy chasing down Walker, who made it all the way to the 49ers' 7-yard line before the quarterback could drag him down.

“A win is a win,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I’m extremely excited about that and we’re all happy, but it was extremely frustrating there at the end. I thought we had a chance to completely finish them and put it away, especially when the defense got us that ball back.”

It’s clear that the 49ers still are learning how to win. They came out of halftime the aggressor, built a big lead and then lost their momentum late. It’s a classic sign of a team that hasn’t been together long and has young players in crucial positions. If anything, Sunday’s near-loss is another learning experience for a team that comes into the season with high expectations.

Garoppolo finished the game 18-of-26 passing for 206 yards and two touchdowns. After throwing three interceptions in the opener, he barely escaped with a clean sheet against Detroit. 

It wasn’t a perfect game for Tom Brady's former understudy. Garoppolo was sacked six times on the afternoon, including multiple times in the red zone. It appeared that Garoppolo held the ball too long on at least a couple of those sacks, which he took the blame for afterward.

“I’ve got to help the O-line out,” Garoppolo said of his performance. “I thought those guys were battling today. They handled their games well up front and picked up the blitzes. It’s a mix-and-match thing. They help me, so I have to help them.” 

Garoppolo was sacked three times in the opener last week. Shanahan pointed to multiple reasons for the increase in sacks in Week 2, but he also acknowledged that the ball needs to come out of the backfield quicker.

“I thought we could have done a better job today beating man coverage, but on a number of those, I thought we had to get rid of it,” Shanahan said. “I’ll see when I see the tape on all of them, but those ones in the red zone, especially, you’d like to give a guy an opportunity, and if he doesn’t beat man, we’ve got to get rid of the ball.”

It’s a work in progress in San Francisco. Losing starting wide receiver Marquise Goodwin to injury doesn’t help matters either. Garoppolo is balancing risking mistakes, like the ones that cost the team dearly in Week 1, with playing too conservatively and taking hits. 

Kyle Shanahan goes back to Super Bowl loss to prepare for Lions

Kyle Shanahan goes back to Super Bowl loss to prepare for Lions

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers have very little material from which to prepare for Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions.

So coach Kyle Shanahan was forced to go back and relive the disappointment of Super Bowl 51, though he tried to remove all emotions and take a clinical approach to gain information that could be useful this weekend.

There was not much to be gleaned from the Detroit Lions’ season opener on Monday, a game that got out of hand midway through the third quarter. So Shanahan has spent a great deal of time looking back at the history of Detroit coach Matt Patricia, who previously served as the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator.

That quest for more intelligence sent Shanahan back to Super Bowl 51, when his offense with the Atlanta Falcons went up against Patricia’s Patriots defense.

“You go back to everything,” Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3) on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Lions and New York Jets were tied 17-17 in the third quarter before the Jets scored touchdowns on a pass play, an interception return and a punt return in less than three minutes to blow the game open and change the approaches of both teams for the remainder of the way.

“You cant just watch 2 ½ quarters of football for the whole week," Shanahan said. "This is stuff I do over the summer, also. Over the summer, we’re not watching Detroit. We’re watching all New England. We’re watching the 2017 year, the 2016 year, and I go back to the last time I played against them, which was in the Super Bowl.”

Shanahan’s offense was rolling in the Super Bowl, as the Falcons led 28-3 in the middle of the third quarter. In Atlanta’s first six possessions, the offense rolled up 14 first downs. But Atlanta did not score in their final four series, and managed just three first downs. Shanahan was roundly criticized for leaning too heavily on the passing game in his fourth-quarter play-calling.

The Patriots' defense stiffened, allowing Tom Brady to engineer a comeback for the ages. The Patriots won, 34-28, in overtime. Less than a month later, Shanahan spent considerable time at the NFL scouting combine with Belichick for advice on becoming a first-time head coach and to learn from what happened to him at the Super Bowl.

“Everyone is a product of their environment,” Shanahan said. “It’s a very good scheme. He knows it very well. Matt’s a very good coach. Matt is very bright, and he’s learned from the best.”

Shanahan said he assumes Patricia will use a similar approach with the Lions from his time with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots use a variety of defensive fronts and coverages. They are rarely predictable.

“I really look at this game, schematically, it’s more about us, putting ourselves in good positions and doing what we do well,” Shanahan said. “We’ll see their plan as we go. We’ll see it early in the game. We’ll see it all the way through the first half. We’ll see their adjustments at halftime, and we have to be ready to adjust accordingly.”

This Sunday, be sure to watch 49ers Pregame Live at 12 p.m. and 49ers Postgame Live immediately after the game on NBC Sports Bay Area and live streaming on the NBC Sports app. Greg Papa, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt will have everything you need to know from the 49ers’ season opener.

Why 49ers' season-opening loss to Vikings should have been expected

Why 49ers' season-opening loss to Vikings should have been expected

So you expected what, really?

Team on the come up goes across the country, plays superior team in its home opener and performs skittishly. Kind of the way you’d figure.
It was this with the 49ers on Sunday in Minnesota, as they took a rudimentary but not demoralizing 24-16 beating at the hands of the Vikings in their season opener, as well as absorbing a helpful but demonstrative education on the gap between a playoff contender and a Super Bowl contender.
Jimmy Garoppolo got The Face roughed up a bit, throwing three interceptions and amassing a substandard 45.1 passer rating into one of the game’s best defenses. Kyle Shanahan’s ability to make a wedding meal out of chicken nuggets failed in the face of missing his best running back (Jerick McKinnon) and wide receiver (Marquise Goodwin, who injured his quad muscle early and did not return).
The defense, still early in what coaches like to call The Process, found the conundrum of Adam Thielen one problem too many. The 49ers didn’t force turnovers, but they did demand six punts from the Vikings’ Matt Wile, so if nothing else, they weren’t boat-raced as they have been in the past.
And the kicking game (Robbie Gould) was the dominant offensive feature of the day, as is typical of the franchise in this decade.
In short, the 49ers looked like what they have been the past several years, only with a better sense of themselves. They were not confused or dispirited -- they just weren’t good enough, and everyone knew that when the schedule came out in April. The Vikings are baddasses. The 49ers are trying to learn how to be.
So yes, they did what you would expect them to do if you see them with a clear eye. This was a game in which they learned what can and cannot be done against a very good team, and they found out why people see them as a coin-flip team -- hovering between 7-9 and 9-7 but not yet a budding power.
And even then, that assessment is more guess than work.
Week 1 typically is full of false positives and negatives (see Bucs-Saints for pure improbables and the Ravens scoring 47 points as an absurdity). Week 2 gives a better sense of who’s who and what’s what, and Week 3 separates most of the wheat from most of the sleet (and yes, we changed a consonant due to family considerations).
But the 49ers didn’t do anything that aggressively altered the world view of them Sunday. Garoppolo was not going to go undefeated forever. The defense was better, though not yet impactful. And Gould is going to be the most dynamic 49ers offensive player for awhile yet.
As. Expected.
The loss of Goodwin, though, is the one wild card. He was Garoppolo’s most reliable receiver last season and figured to be so again through the early part of this year. Also, Pierre Garcon’s first touch Sunday featured him coming off the field with a hip issue (he did come back), so without Goodwin as well as McKinnon, the 49ers' offense simply might not have enough weapons to make Garoppolo’s ascent toward Canton quite the cakewalk the true believers wish it to be.
But that won’t be known until Goodwin’s condition is assessed more completely, a better sense of what the Lions do and what adjustments the 49ers can make to widen their portfolio. The game was what you thought it would be, and the season still is a million miles long.
That will change soon, one way or another. I’d give it at least two more weeks if I were you.