49ers Historic Victory

The San Francisco 49ers are on to their eighth Super Bowl Appearance.  On the way, they achieved the largest comeback in NFC Championship history.  The Niners overcame a deficit of 17 points to win by three.  That particular feat had only been accomplished once before, in 2012 by the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers were genuinely shocked by the Lions first half onslaught.  The Detroit Lions slashed and gashed the vaunted 49er defense for 24 points in the first half of the NFC Championship.  Meanwhile, the 49ers missed a 48-yard field goal and scored one touchdown early in the second quarter.  The Lions are a young, aggressive team.  They were jazzed and ready to prove themselves.  Yet, despite all their juice, they didn’t have the stamina, nor the killer instinct needed to put the veteran Niner squad away.  The 49ers leaned on their character, skill and ability to maximize of opportunities as they took the game away from the Lions.


There has been a lot of discussion about whether Brock Purdy is merely a system quarterback thriving in an offense full of premier talent.  The critics have lined up to point out that Purdy has yet to put the team on his shoulders when it mattered.  No one believed he could lead this team to overcome a significant deficit such as 17 points.  Purdy silenced the naysayers with his second half performance on Sunday night.

Purdy was never rattled in the NFC Championship.  He came out in the second half, locked, loaded and slung the rock down the field.  If he couldn’t find a receiver, he tucked and ran.  Purdy’s instincts and gumption were vital to the 49ers ability to crawl out of the hole they dug for themselves.  The rest of the team fed off his energy and laid it all on the line to help secure victory.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy celebrates with the George S. Halas Trophy after their win against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The 49ers roster is stocked with football players who have endured significant adversity in their football lives.  The core 49ers drafted to the team remember what the early years under John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan looked like.  The team suffered many brutal losses.

Free agent Trent Williams suffered thru a decade of Washington Redskin incompetence and drudgery.  Last year’s block buster trade acquisition Christian McCaffrey also endured significant adversity with the Carolina Panthers for five seasons.  All of those experiences build character.  They build callouses.  Those shared experiences help build comradery.  The 49ers are a team forged through the crucible of significant adversity and shared experiences.  The 49ers character held them together.  They didn’t panic at half time.  They identified what they needed to do, and came out in the second half and executed.

Keys to Victory

Coming out of half time, the 49ers needed to figure out how to lock down the Lions offense.  They needed to force at least three punts and obtain a turnover.  Finally, the 49ers offense needed to score every possession.  First, they focused on their run fits by tightening up their zone coverage.  The 49er defense left to many wide-open holes in their zone, and their linebackers didn’t fill the gaps fast enough in the first half.  The loose zone resulted in the Lions rushing for over 133 yards in the first half alone.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) sacks Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) during the NFC Championship NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

The 49ers also needed to figure out how to cover Amon-Ra St. Brown.  It was puzzling that Charvarius Ward was not in man-to-man coverage on St. Brown every play.  In the second half, Ward played sticky coverage on St. Brown, forcing Jared Goff to throw elsewhere, while successfully defending a few passes thrown St. Brown’s way.  Additionally, Coach Wilkes realized if he put a little pressure on Jared Goff, he would struggle.  He started sending various types of blitzes to flummox the Lions signal caller while playing man coverage on the back end.  This adjustment aided in holding the Lions to scoring only one touchdown in the whole second half.

On offense, the 49ers needed to sustain a drive and hit on a few explosives.  During their one scoring drive in the first half, Brock Purdy was on the move while throwing.  The whole rest of the half he was standing like a statute in the shotgun.  In the second half, Coach Shanahan put in him under center.  He ran multiple tightened sets, forcing the Lions to match personnel.  Purdy was able to take advantage of natural mismatches created by these formations.  Christian McCaffrey also benefited as he ground out yards on the ground.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) runs during the NFC Championship NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

Finally, Brock Purdy’s ability to make play’s off schedule was the final seal needed to cement an eventual victory.  Purdy rushed three times for 52 yards in the second half, gaining yards on crucial third downs to keep drives alive.  If he couldn’t run for it, he would keep looking down field until he found someone to connect with.  At one point in the third quarter, the Lion’s nickel back seemingly had Purdy sacked, but instead, Purdy shook the defender off his shoulders, rolled out and found Kyle Juszczyk who caught the ball just beyond the sticks for a tippy toe first down.  It’s important to note that McCaffrey missed a block on the blitzing nickelback, and Purdy found a way to keep the drive alive.


The 49er skill players showed up and showed out in the second half.  Purdy had to make the right reads though.  Some argue that the luckiest play in the game was the shot play Purdy threw to Brandon Aiyuk where the ball bounced off the defender’s helmet and into Aiyuk’s hands.  First of all, Purdy made the right read.  Second, Aiyuk was in the right place at the right time.  Third, wide receivers do tip drills too.  All that work paid off when Aiyuk was able to snag a bouncing ball for a huge first down.  It wasn’t luck.  It was skill.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) makes a catch over Detroit Lions cornerback Kindle Vildor (29) during the NFC Championship NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

Skill was exhibited when Tashaun Gipson came in and punched the ball out of Jahmyr Gibbs hands during a third quarter run.  After Purdy threw the long bomb to Aiyuk, he was able to find him in the endzone for a touchdown two plays later.  Late in the fourth quarter, on a 3rd and 4, when the score was only 27 to 24, Purdy skill fully read that his receivers were covered, pulled the ball down and ran for 21 yards.  Lastly, Coach Shanahan skillfully a masterful game.  He and Coach Wilkes made the right adjustments at the right time to give the Niners the best opportunity to win.

Maximizing Opportunities

The 49ers put themselves in a big hole by the time the first half was over.  They were going to need some opportunities to open up for them to be able to secure a comeback win.  Dan Campbell’s play calling presented two opportunities.  If the Niners defense could hold on two different fourth down plays in the second half, the ball would be turned over to their offense with excellent field position.  In both cases the 49ers secured the needed stops.  The 49ers converted each of those turnovers on downs to touchdowns.  Coach Campbell could have kicked field goals in both instances.  Instead, he gave the 49ers defense an opportunity to get a stop and the 49ers defense rose to the occasion.

Final Thoughts

The 49ers have six outstanding eligible receivers.  Deebo Samuel, Brand Aiyuk, Juaun Jennings, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and Christian McCaffrey are the six eligible starters and they all caught passes in this year’s NFC Championship.  CJ Gardner-Johnson tested Deebo’s shoulder with a cheap blind side shot at the end of a play late in the second quarter.  Deebo wasn’t phased.  He led the team in receiving and yards on Sunday night.  Most of McCaffrey’s runs were for two and three yards a clip.  Despite the low yards per carry, Kyle Shanahan remained committed to the run.  Nick Bosa has been criticized this year for his lack of sack production, yet he took Goff down twice in the NFC Championship.  Overall, the team’s veterans and stars rose to the occasion when they needed to in order to secure a berth in this year’s Super Bowl.  They all rallied behind their leader, Brock Purdy, and went out and earned the George Halas trophy.

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) stiff arms Detroit Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (2) during the NFC Championship NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

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