Lions are still looking for signature victory after 27-19 loss at San Francisco
The Lions came into Sunday night’s matchup with the 49ers looking for a signature victory against one of the best teams in the NFC.
What they found out is that those kinds of wins are hard to come by on the road if they don’t play their best football. The Lions weren’t particularly good in any one area Sunday night and will have to wait a little longer for that signature win after a 27-19 loss.
“This is a 16-game season and one of the things you have to do over the course of the season is you’ve got to be able to negotiate all the highs and lows that go into a season,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said after the loss.
“This wasn’t our best game in any of our phases. We can play better in all of our phases. We lost by one score on the road even considering we didn’t play well. I won’t pull positives from it, but we’ve got to be able to bounce back and play. We can’t turn one loss into two.”
In the locker room after the game, the Lions were talking about missed opportunities and a few plays they’d like to have back, which has been a common theme in losses to the NFL’s elite teams over the last two seasons.
“I just think it’s missed opportunities in these types of games,” said Linebacker Stephen Tulloch. “We ran into a kicker on a field goal and they got another four points. We missed a field goal. It’s just little mistakes that are killing us and we have to find a way how to get over that in these games. We have to not beat ourselves.”
The Lions came into the game knowing that they had to first contain running back Frank Gore and the 49ers’ potent rushing attack if they were going to have a chance at the upset. As many teams have found out over the last two seasons though, that’s proven hard to actually do.
The 49ers averaged nearly 5.5 yards per carry on way to 148 total yards on the ground. Gore had 89 on 17 carries and a touchdown. Their ability to run the ball and control the clock allowed quarterback Alex Smith to get into a comfort zone and the 49ers are tough to beat when they are two-dimensional on offense.
Who would have thought that the quarterback making the most plays on the night would be Smith and not Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Smith was 20-of-31 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns and was brilliant for most of the evening.
As for the Lions offense and its much-anticipated matchup with one of the league’s best defenses, it never got cranking.
“I don't think we were reading different things,” Stafford said after the game. “I don't think as an offense we had hit our stride yet. We moved the ball really well at times today against a really good defense and then didn't take advantage of our opportunities in the red zone like we need to.
“Against a team like that every point counts and every point is crucial. We had too many times when we were kicking field goals at the end of drives. That's unlike us. And we understand that we didn't play our best game in any of the phases today.
Stafford was off point most of the night and finished 19-of-32 passing for 230 yards with one touchdown and an interception. The interception is his fourth of the season, twice as many as he has touchdowns.
It was the first time in five games that he’s failed to throw for 350 yards in a game.
“You know it's one thing if we come out here and play our best football and get blown out of the water,” Stafford said. “We played poorly, had a lot of penalties and didn't capitalize on any opportunities. It a one touchdown game at the end of the game so you have to take the good with the bad. You have to learn from wins, learn from losses. It's just the way the NFL is.
Lions kicker Jason Hanson provided most of the scoring punch for the Lions with four field goals on the night.
Stafford trimmed the 49ers lead to one score with 1:29 left in the game after a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew , but the Lions failed to recover the subsequent onside kick, which ended the game and their hopes for an upset.
In the end, a combination of a poor offensive night, a few bad penalties and the inability to stop the 49ers on third down in the fourth quarter proved to be the their undoing.
The Lions had a pass interference penalty in the end zone that led to a Gore 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Cornerback Drayton Florence ran into 49ers kick David Akers that turned a forced field goal into another opportunity to score that touchdown.
On the decisive final scoring drive late in the fourth quarter, the 49ers converted three third downs of 7-yards or more and capped the drive off with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Smith to tight end Vernon Davis that ultimately put the game out of reach.
“It’s just that point in the game, regardless, you just have to get a stop,” Vanden Bosch said. “Especially third-and-long, we have to get off the field.”
“We had to play our best football to beat this team and we didn’t. That’s frustrating but we know what we’re capable of and we’re going to keep working toward that.”