San Francisco Chronicle
Impressive win but distressing injury
disconsolate, put a towel over his head on the bench before putting his hands over the shoulders of two trainers as he limped to the locker room, trying to shield his tears by placing his left hand over his face.
Verrett’s injury isn’t the only reason the 49ers narrowly avoided an epic fourth-quarter collapse in their season-opening 41-33 win over the Lions at Ford Field in a game they led by 24 points at the two-minute warning. After it was over, however, it was clear that the injury was felt teamwide because it happened to Verrett. He had recaptured his Pro Bowl form last year after tearing his ACL in 2016, tearing his Achilles in 2018 and contemplating retirement while missing 58 of 64 games during a four-season stretch.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel’s voice cracked as he talked about Verrett. Head coach Kyle Shanahan twice termed his injury “crushing.”
“J.V.’s been a leader on this team,” tight end George Kittle said. “His story of just playing at a high level, getting hurt. Playing at high level, getting hurt. It’s awful. It definitely knocks the wind out of your sails.”
The 49ers almost certainly won’t have Verrett for the rest of the season. But they didn’t begin their season with an unfathomable upset loss after the Lions fell just short. Detroit, which trailed 38-10 late in the third quarter, scored 16 points on two late fourth-quarter drives that lasted less than five minutes, a flurry that included a recovered onside kick.
With the 49ers suddenly clinging to a 41-33 lead, Samuel lost a fumble at the end of what appeared to be a game-sealing first-down reception and the Lions recovered at their 30-yard line with 52 seconds left. The Lions marched 46 yards in 35 seconds — making overtime a distinct possibility — but Jared Goff ’s throw on 4th-and-9 from the 49ers’ 24-yard line fell incomplete.
The most relieved member of the 49ers? It might have been Samuel, who watched part of Detroit’s final drive outstretched on the sideline.
“I was just out there hoping and praying the defense would hold on,” Samuel said, “because I knew I just made a big mistake.”
The 49ers opened the game with a turnover on their first offensive snap. But after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo lost a fumble on a botched center exchange, the 49ers, 9-point road favorites, spent much of the afternoon eviscerating the Lions, who allowed the secondmost points in NFL history last year.
Garoppolo, whose starting job has been the source of endless offseason discussion, ensured he’ll keep the No. 1 spot for another week. And he won’t be unseated by rookie Trey Lance until at least 2022 if he can keep reprising Sunday’s performance: Garoppolo shrugged off his turnover by connecting on his first eight passes, part of a performance in which he completed 17 of 25 passes for 314 yards with a touchdown and posted a 124.2 passer rating.
Garoppolo oversaw an offense that had 442 yards, averaged 8 yards per play and scored four touchdowns and a field goal in the six drives after his fumble. The 49ers were averaging a first down every play (10.3 yards) after taking a 38-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
The 49ers had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher (Elijah Mitchell) and a 100-yard receiver (Samuel) in the same game for the first time since Oct. 7, 2012.
“We were rolling as an offense for a minute there,” Garoppolo said. “We got into a pretty good groove. Kyle was calling the plays, he was on fire and we were rolling pretty good. We’ve just got to find a way to finish a little better.”
The 49ers will now have to finish the season without Verrett, whose tearful limp to the locker room Sunday was one reason his teammates limped to the finish.
“He’s worked so hard to come out and prove himself,” Samuel said. “You could tell it took a toll on the team.”