49ers dominate early, hold off Lions late with 41-33

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws against the Detroit Lions defense in the second half of action at Ford Field in Detroit during week 1 Sun Sep 12, 2021 (AP News photo)

By Joe Hawkes
Staff Writer

DETROIT, MI — The 49ers scored 17 unanswered points in two minutes in the second quarter, highlighted by a Dre Greenlaw interception return for a touchdown, but narrowly escaped with a 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

San Francisco (1-0) carried a 38-10 lead early in the fourth quarter and allowed the Lions to to score 23 straight points in a span of three minutes to pull within eight points. But with 12 seconds remaining in the game, the Lions turned the ball on downs at the San Francisco 24-yard line to thwart Detroit’s late rally.

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo shook off a fumble on the first snap of the game, finished the game 17 of 25 for 314 yards. Garoppolo hooked up with wide receiver Deebo Samuel on a 78-yard touchdown pass after second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah stumbled in coverage.

“We got into a pretty good groove and we were rolling pretty good, but you want to finish better than that,” Garoppolo said. “There was a relaxation on the sideline.

“At the end of the day, it’s a win and we’re happy with that.”

The scoring play gave the 49ers a 28-point lead midway through the third quarter, which they would need.

Samuel had nine catches for a career-high 189 yards, but had a key fumble late in the fourth quarter that gave the Lions hope with a little over a minute left.

Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell, who stepped in for the injured Raheem Mostert (knee), snapped a 7-7 tie with a 38-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that put the 49ers up 14-7. Mitchell finished with 104 yards rushing.

Tight end George Kittle had four catches for 78 yards.

San Francisco took an early 7-0 lead after rookie quarterback Trey Lance connected with wide receiver Trent Sherfield on a 5-yard score following a play-action pass in the first quarter.

Defensively, San Francisco must tighten up their run defense. The Lions ran through multiple running lanes in the game and racked up a 116 yards on the ground. Defensive end Nick Bosa, who returned to action for the first time since tearing his ACL early last season, had four tackles and a drive-ending sack in the fourth quarter.

Middle linebacker Fred Warner led the team with 11 tackles (8 solo, 3 assisted). San Francisco forced three turnovers off the rebuilding Lions.

In his debut with his new team, quarterback Jared Goff finished 38 of 57 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Tight end T.J. Hockenson had a career-high eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.

It was third time straight time that Hockenson scored a touchdown in the season-opening game.

Detroit (0-1) recorded 430 yards in total offense, with the majority coming when the 49ers were up comfortably in the second half.

San Francisco held a 31-10 lead at halftime, their highest total after two quarters since 2008.

“We dug ourselves into a really big ditch early against a very good team,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. “We were better in the second half, but that wasn’t good enough.”

On the injury front, the 49ers are holding their breath on the status of starting cornerback Jason Verrett who left the game late in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers believe that Verrett tore his ACL.

Next up for the 49ers: a trip to Philadelphia where they will take on the Eagles in Week 2. Second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts was 27 of 35 for 264 yards and three touchdowns for the Eagles in a 32-6 throttling of the Atlanta Falcons on the road.

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