By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers dropped a 32-17 decision to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Motown on Sunday, leaving their record at 4-11 this season. The 49ers trailed by three at halftime, but they were unable to score in the second half as the Lions pulled away for the win.
San Francisco was done in by 11 penalties and a 1-for-11 effort on third- and fourth-down conversions. Overall, they didn’t play poorly, but once again, the coaching staff is letting the team down with its inability to keep the team competitive for 60 minutes on the road. That’s too many penalties for the 15th game of the season, and the 49ers’ inability to stay close in the second half means they just were out-coached once again.
The 49ers had success running the ball on Sunday against the Lions, totaling 121 yards on 23 carries for a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. DuJuan Harris led the team with 73 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, quarterback Blaine Gabbert completed 22-of-33 attempts for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
Scoring 17 points in the first half alone was a great achievement for the 49ers offense, but the failure to score in the second half just felt typical for this team and its 2015 season. Gabbert’s only mistake was a fumble on his own goal line that Detroit turned into the go-ahead TD in the second quarter. San Francisco never had the lead again, gaining just 72 yards in the second half.
The Lions couldn’t get much going on the ground today, as the 49ers rushing defense was solid. However, Detroit QB Matthew Stafford—a former No. 1 overall draft pick—picked apart the S.F. defense through the air rather easily. He completed 29-of-37 passes for 301 yards and two TDs.
The 49ers defense was on the field for 36:30 in this game, and in the second half, the unit just wore down. The low moment, really, was right before halftime when the S.F. offense had just delivered a field goal with 40 seconds left to tie the game. However, the defense let Stafford and the Lions go 60 yards very quickly—aided by three 49ers penalties—to kick their own FG and take the lead for good.
Special Teams: C
Kicker Phil Dawson missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt, which probably shouldn’t happen in a domed stadium, and the punt defense unit gave up a first down that led to Detroit’s first TD. Falling for a fake punt is always a bad thing, especially when it lets the other team take the lead away from you. Bruce Ellington had some nice kickoff returns, but otherwise, it wasn’t a good day for the S.F. special teams.
For the second week in a row, the 49ers committed 11 penalties. In addition, the 49ers staff couldn’t capitalize on the positive start for the offense, failing to make halftime adjustments on the way to another disappointing road loss. These are two big issues for the coaching staff this late in the season.
The defensive failure at the end of the first half as noted above seemed to take a lot of wind out of the 49ers emotionally, and the coaching staff can’t let that happen. Time after time, game after game, this San Francisco staff seems to fail in some very basic situations that no NFL staff should be falling victim to during the game.
One More Game
The 49ers return home for the season finale at Levi’s Stadium next weekend to face the St. Louis Rams. They finished the season 1-7 on the road, but San Francisco has a chance to finish .500 at home with a win in Week 17. Gabbert has one more game to convince the 49ers (or other teams) that he’s good enough to be an NFL starter. Most importantly, Head Coach Jim Tomsula has one final opportunity to prove he deserves another season at the helm of the San Francisco team.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.