San Francisco Chronicle

Game review

- — Eric Branch

Their first snap: QB Jimmy Garoppolo lost a fumble. Their penultimat­e snap: WR Deebo Samuel lost a fumble. In between those botches, however, the 49ers manhandled a team that had one of the worst defenses in NFL history last year: They had 442 yards, scored their most first-half points (31) since 2008, averaged 8 yards a snap and had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher (Elijah Mitchell) and 100yard receiver (Samuel) for the first time since 2012. Yes, it was against the Lions. But it was also done mostly without Raheem Mostert (two carries), presumptiv­e No. 1 WR Brandon Aiyuk (no targets), who played sparingly, and third-round RB Trey Sermon, who was inactive. That is, there is room for growth here when the opponents offer more resistance.


Where have you gone, Robert Saleh? OK, it’s premature to pin this performanc­e on the fact the 49ers transition­ed from Saleh to rookie DC DeMeco Ryans in the offseason, but they surrendere­d 31 first downs, 33 points and 430 yards. That’s the fourth most yards they’ve allowed since 2018, and the first-down total matched the most they’ve surrendere­d since allowing 32 in December 2017. On the bright side: Much of the damage came in what appeared to be garbage time (whoops!), and LB Dre Greenlaw had a 29-yard INT return for a TD. The most encouragin­g moment came when DE Nick Bosa had a tackle for a 4-yard loss and DE Dee Ford harassed QB Jared Goff into his pick-six on back-to-back plays.


This unit contribute­d to the late-game collapse when TE George Kittle couldn’t handle an onside kick that led to a Lions’ 59-yard TD drive. And they hadn’t distinguis­hed themselves before that. Robbie Gould missed a 52yard field goal, and kickoff returner Ambry Thomas (four returns, 17.5 average) didn’t provide any pop to any area that was an issue last year. Mitch Wishnowky had just two punts (38 average) and forced the Lions to start drives at the 12- and 14-yard line.


Kyle Shanahan pulled a mild surprise and used rookie Trey Lance quite quickly, inserting him for two plays on the 49ers’ second drive. It was also a nice touch to have Lance fake a zone-read to Mitchell and locate Trent Sherfield for a 5-yard, walk-in score. The Lions were clearly expecting Lance to run, which explains why Lance’s other three snaps netted just 2 yards on three carries. Shanahan scheming against that defense wasn’t a fair fight, and Garoppolo kept finding pass-catchers running through wide-open spaces in the mushy middle of the secondary.


They did what they were supposed to do … for 31⁄2 quarters. Shanahan and players said their fourth-quarter issues were partly tied to the emotional fallout after oft-injured, wellrespec­ted CB Jason Verrett suffered a serious knee injury. But they started getting picked apart before their No. 1 CB was no longer on the field. After one game, the 49ers have probably already lost a hard-toreplace defensive player for the season. And that inspires unpleasant memories of 2020.

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