James Ham

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. 

49ers running back Matt Breida emerges as game-changer in win over Lions

49ers running back Matt Breida emerges as game-changer in win over Lions

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. 

49ers-Lions highlights: Seven plays that defined San Francisco's win


49ers-Lions highlights: Seven plays that defined San Francisco's win

SANTA CLARA -- The San Francisco 49ers opened their home schedule with a bang Sunday, outlasting the Detroit Lions for a 30-27 victory at Levi’s Stadium.

While it wasn’t always pretty -- Jimmy Garoppolo, for example, took untimely sacks and nearly blew the game by throwing a fourth-quarter interception that was called back on a defensive penalty -- the 49ers made just enough plays and overcame some mistakes to walk away winners.

Let’s examine the seven plays that ultimately swung the game the 49ers’ way and sent the Lions home 0-2.

Saved by the whistle

Jimmy G’s biggest mistake came with 2:24 left in the game, but a defensive holding call on Quandre Diggs erased a Tracy Walker interception and 37-yard return that would’ve given the Lions the ball at the 49ers’ 7.

Our Ray Ratto tweeted what everyone was thinking when Walker picked off the pass …

… and then everyone saw the yellow flag on the field.

Running wild

Matt Breida opened the game with a 28-yard scamper, and that was just the beginning. The 49ers’ speedy running back tried to put the game away late in the third quarter when he busted out a 20-yard gain, followed by a 66-yard touchdown run to cap a three-play, 97-yard drive.

The 66-yard run gave Breida his first career 100-yard game and was the longest play of his two-year NFL career. He finished the game with 138 yards on 11 carries -- as the 49ers used him on stretch plays, including on his TD -- and added 21 yards on three receptions.

Coming out hot

D.J. Reed Jr. took the second-half kickoff to the house for a 101-yard touchdown, but this time, a penalty didn’t go the 49ers’ way. The rookie grabbed a Lions defender’s facemask as he muscled into the end zone, and the call placed the ball at the Detroit 26.

Garoppolo picked up Reed four plays later, when he hit tight end Garrett Celek on an 11-yard TD pass that gave the 49ers a 20-10 lead.

So no harm on that foul, as Reed’s return got the 49ers off to a great start following a disappointing finish to the first half.

Longest drive contest

On the kickoff after the Lions’ first score, Mark Nzeocha was called for an illegal block above the waist, backing the 49ers up to their own 12. Garoppolo and the offense responded by chewing 5:38 off the clock on a 13-play, 88-yard drive topped by a 4-yard TD pass to Kendrick Bourne in the left flat.

It was Bourne’s first NFL touchdown, which always is cause for celebration.

Costly mistake

The Lions seemed to lose focus in the middle of the second quarter. After holding the 49ers on third-and-2 and forcing a punt, the wheels came off Detroit’s bus.

Return man Jamal Agnew started the sequence by forgetting to fair-catch the punt and then being blasted by San Francisco special-teamer Raheem Mostert.

Three plays later, 49ers linebacker Elijah Lee hit Matthew Stafford on third-and-3 and forced a fumble, which Cassius Marsh recovered for San Francisco at the Detroit 16.

The Lions held the 49ers to a field goal, but the series was a complete disaster for Detroit.

Wrap it up

The 49ers had the Lions pinned on third-and-7 at their own 34 on Detroit’s second drive, when Stafford hit Theo Riddick out of the backfield on a swing pass. Lee was there for the stop, but he let Riddick wiggle free for a 10-yard gain and a first down.

The Lions scored four plays later on a 30-yard TD pass to Kenny Golladay.

Lost opportunity

Leading 30-13 in the fourth quarter, the 49ers forced the Lions into a third-and-17 situation after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on LeGarrette Blount that resulted in the running back being ejected.

But Stafford scrambled on the third-down play and found a wide-open Golden Tate down the left sideline. Tate cut back to the middle of the field before finally being tackled at the 49ers’ 10 after a gain of 67 yards, setting up a Marvin Jones TD two plays later.

The play gave Detroit momentum, as the team also scored a touchdown on its next offensive possession to cut San Francisco’s lead to 30-27 and make it a game late. Luckily, the 49ers’ defense held, and the officials saw the defensive hold that negated Garoppolo’s late pick.