SANTA CLARA — It took the 49ers five games to win at Levi’s Stadium last year. They only needed one this season.
They executed their first home opportunity of 2018, holding off the Detroit Lions, 30-27, Sunday afternoon to improve to 1-1.
Of course, several of his team’s hallmarks weren’t present at this time last year, and it has showed. Last week, the 49ers lost by eight points at Minnesota in one of the toughest season openers you could have. Despite the four turnovers and slew of miscues, there were encouraging signs as they prepared for Sunday’s matchup with Detroit.
On paper, this was one of the most winnable games of the first half of San Francisco’s season, which features away matchups at Minnesota, Kansas City, Los Angeles (Chargers), and Green Bay. The 49ers got it done, though they flirted with squandering a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 30-13, the Lions strung consecutive touchdown drives to cut San Francisco’s lead to three with fewer than four minutes remaining. The 49ers needed a couple first downs — and some very good fortune — to secure the win.
On a crucial third down, Lions defensive back Tracy Walker intercepted Garoppolo and nearly returned it for a touchdown. But the Lions were called for holding. Garoppolo and the 49ers dodged a bullet.
They wouldn’t throw again. Alfred Morris ran the following two plays. Garoppolo subsequently took his sixth sack, and the 49ers punted. But they held off the Lions, forcing a turnover a downs to secure the win.
The 49ers played nearly the entire game with the lead.
After forcing a Detroit punt to start the game, they started the scoring when Robbie Gould connected on a 45-yard field goal about halfway through the first quarter. They marched 63 yards on the drive, but Garoppolo took consecutive sacks to force third and long. That was a trend throughout Sunday’s victory.
On their next scoring drive, the 49ers found pay dirt. They followed Detroit’s scoring drive with a 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. Kyle Shanahan’s creativity was in full effect. He deployed receiver Kendrick Bourne as a running back, and he looped out for an easy four-yard touchdown catch. Gould’s extra point gave the 49ers the 10-7 advantage.
San Francisco forced consecutive three-and-outs, the second of which yielded a Matt Stafford fumble, which the 49ers recovered. Despite starting on Detroit’s 16-yard line to begin the drive, the 49ers didn’t punch the ball into the end zone. Garoppolo took another sack, and Gould capped the drive with another field goal. It was his 28th straight make, breaking Phil Dawson’s previous franchise record.
The Lions responded with a field goal before halftime. The 49ers entered the break leading, 13-10.
Rookie D.J. Reed took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards. He got in the end zone, but a face mask penalty backed the 49ers to the Detroit 26-yard line. Four plays later, Garoppolo hit Garrett Celek, his first catch of the season, on an 11-yard touchdown.
The Lions responded with a field goal. The 49ers punted, then forced Detroit to punt before putting together a big scoring drive. Matt Breida ripped consecutive runs of 20 and 66 yards, the second of which resulted in a touchdown. Pierre Garcon lead-blocked about 30 yards as Breida followed him into the end zone. He finished with 11 carries for 138 yards.
The 49ers held a comfortable 17-point lead. But the Lions struck back with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to make the game interesting. They stopped the 49ers, then scored another touchdown to cut the deficit to three points.
That’s where the scoring stopped, with the 49ers earning their first win of the 2018 season.