Garcia completed 15 of 27 passes for 192 yards and rushed for another score, but his biggest play came in the hours before kickoff. Over breakfast, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback and his All-Pro receiver reached a delicate peace in their tumultuous relationship—and they celebrated by making several big plays against Mariucci’s Lions.
Garcia barely spoke to Owens all week after the receiver criticized him, but he was the first to greet Owens for a celebration after a TD catch in the first quarter.
“Both of us were very uncomfortable with the way it had gotten and didn’t want to see it go on any longer,” Garcia said. “I don’t like having any sort of negativity in the locker room. … Considering the distractions that took place this week, it was a difficult week.”
It was similarly difficult for Mariucci, who knows plenty about the 49ers’ penchant for high drama. He went 57-39 in six seasons with the Niners, leading them to the NFC West title and the second round of the playoffs last season.
Three days after the 49ers lost to Tampa Bay last January, Mariucci was fired by owner John York. Waves of contradictory feelings flowed through Mariucci as he faced the team he helped build into a contender.
“I suppose a little bit of everything—hard, exciting, different,” Mariucci said. “I tried to minimize it as much as I could. Needless to say, it was different.”
Mariucci paced the sidelines with his usual vigor, but Detroit (1-4) couldn’t move the ball consistently in its fourth straight loss. By the final minutes, Mariucci was shivering in the cold winds at Candlestick Park as San Francisco ran out the clock.
The 49ers (2-3) snapped a three-game losing streak with just enough offense to extend the Lions’ road losing streak to 19 games.
“It was a game that meant a lot to the organization, because we needed to come back with a win,” York said. “Our need for a win today far outweighed playing Detroit and Steve Mariucci.”
Owens’ bitter public fights with Mariucci dampened the 49ers’ success in recent seasons, and the receiver hasn’t changed his tune under new coach Dennis Erickson. Owens has been vocal about his teammates’ shortcomings and his displeasure with his role the 49ers’ offense.
But his five catches Sunday all were important ones, and he appeared to be getting along with his teammates a week after saying they had no heart. Owens wouldn’t comment after the game, but he wore the vintage jersey of Michael Irvin, the former Dallas receiver who was no stranger to controversy.
The 49ers took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter after Garcia’s 1-yard TD sneak late in the third, but Olandis Gary quickly scored for Detroit on a 2-yard run. Neither team scored again, and San Francisco ran out the clock at midfield.
Joey Harrington was 19-of-35 for 200 yards, but threw two key interceptions as the Lions never led despite one of their defense’s most impressive recent outings.
“I like that we showed up and played hard,” said Lions guard Ray Brown, who played six seasons with the 49ers. “I hate that we didn’t do enough to win the ballgame. … We’ll win some football games, and a couple of them will be on the road.”
Mariucci’s familiarity with the 49ers was expected to be a big advantage for the Lions. After scoring on their first three possessions, the Niners dropped into the offensive funk that’s plagued them for a month—and the sellout crowd booed them repeatedly.
But San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora knew a few things about Mariucci’s offense as well, holding the Lions to 128 yards after halftime.
“We’ve seen that offense in practice for four years, so we knew a lot of what to expect,” Mora said. “He coaches the West Coast offense in its truest form, and we attacked it that way. We were able to do some good things.”
Ahmed Plummer intercepted Harrington on the opening drive, and San Francisco scored in six plays. Owens caught a 15-yard pass across the middle, then got free in the end zone for a 6-yard score—and an impromptu dance with the 49ers’ mascot.
The Niners also scored on their next two possessions, with rookie tight end Aaron Walker catching a 14-yard TD pass early in the second quarter for a 17-0 lead.
The Lions came back with two scores, including Mikhael Ricks’ 6-yard TDcatch 2:58 before halftime.
San Francisco LB Jeff Ulbrich was knocked out of the game in the second half with a concussion. Afterward, Ulbrich had no memory of the play on which he was hurt. He’s listed as questionable for next week. … Garcia’s TD pass to Owens was the 100th of his career. … Lions TE John Owens also had aconcussion.