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8 takeaways from 49ers wacky NFC championship win over Lions

“They had us in the first half, not gonna lie.”

49ers tight end George Kittle hit the nail on the head during the team’s post-game celebration following at 34-31 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium.

It was a remarkable back-and-forth contest that featured one back and one forth. Detroit won the first half 24-7. San Francisco won the second half 27-7, and the game 34-31.

Here eight takeaways from an instant classic:

What was that first half?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Not much could’ve gone worse for the 49ers in the first half. They fell behind 14-0, and then went into the half down 24-7. It’s not easy to overcome 17-point deficits, much less overcoming them against another good team in an NFC championship game. San Francisco’s offense looked disjointed, quarterback Brock Purdy really struggled, and the 49ers’ defense was virtually nonexistent while the Lions averaged a whopping 6.5 yards per play and 7.0 yards per carry. It was tough to come away from the first 30 minutes with a ton of belief that there was a path to victory for the 49ers.

Experience matters

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Down the stretch it was clear which team had been in these spots before. The Lions in the second half started missing plays they were making in the first half, and the 49ers started making plays they were missing in the first half. There was a snowball effect and it was clear once San Francisco had momentum it was going to take a self-inflicted wound for the 49ers to give that momentum back. It was a dominant effort in the final 2 quarters from a team that did not want to lose a third consecutive NFC title game.

Brock Purdy scrambles his way out

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There was a real chance that Sunday was going to be another dreary outing for Purdy. His first shot play of the game was nearly intercepted and from there he was indecisive and missed multiple throws he probably should’ve had. He finished the game 20-of-31 for 267 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but it was his scrambling that made the difference. He rushed for 48 yards on five carries, and was at 51 on four attempts before his final kneel down of the game. He got away from pressure, created yards with his legs, and generated multiple first downs. Purdy also had an unreal escape on a sack where instead of losing a few yards, he hit fullback Kyle Juszczyk for 10 and a first down. There were multiple opportunities for Purdy to let the game get away, and he never did, which is a key reason San Francisco made its way back into a contest they had no business being in after how they looked in the first half.

2 game-changers

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

There were two mistakes by Detroit that flipped the game. The first came more than halfway through the third quarter when Lions cornerback Kindle Vildor should’ve had an interception on a deep shot to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Instead, the ball bounced off Vildor’s mask and allowed Aiyuk to make a diving grab for 51 yards that put the 49ers at the 4 yard line in a 24-10 game. Sunday’s game looks dramatically different if Vildor hauls in that pass.

It didn’t take long for another Detroit mistake to give the 49ers another advantage. On first down after San Francisco’s TD, Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs fumbled on a hit by 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson. 49ers defensive tackle Arik Armstead dove on the ball for a recovery at Detroit’s 24. The 49ers tied the game at 24 a few plays later.

Those two miscues by the Lions completely altered the complexion of the NFC championship.

Quick turnaround

This, via NFL Media’s Mike Yam, is an absolutely wild stat:

Big game Deebo

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The 49ers offense was a little disjointed, so they started leaning heavily on WR Deebo Samuel. He had three carries for seven yards, and was targeted nine times, including six in the second half. He caught all six second-half passes for 68 yards and turned in an excellent performance after being a question mark to play early in the week. Expect Samuel to be involved heavily early in the 49ers’ Super Bowl matchup against the Chiefs, because their offense just moves different when he has the ball in his hands.

An injury concern

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

RB Christian McCaffrey landed on his head late in Sunday’s game and wound up exiting for the rest of the contest. Elijah Mitchell took over the rest of the way including the game-winning touchdown and the game-sealing carries. This will be something to monitor very closely in the lead up to the Super Bowl.

The kicking woes continue... ish

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Moody wound up connecting on all four of his extra point attempts and two of his three field goals, but his miss early in the game put Detroit in position to go up 14-0 with good field position and all the momentum. He bounced back like he always does though and hit from 43 and 33 yards out. The first one made it a 24-10 game, and the second one gave the 49ers a 27-24 lead. He’s still a huge question mark in the Super Bowl, but he did enough to help the 49ers win the NFC championship.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire