49ers vs. Lions: San Francisco Grades, Notes and Quotes
The San Francisco 49ers may have shown a bit of an inspired effort on the road against the Detroit Lions in Week 16—including scoring the team's first offensive touchdown in the first quarter this year—but they couldn't figure out how to pull off a road win at Ford Field and fell 32-17.
San Francisco fell victim to a number of costly mistakes throughout the game. A fake punt by Detroit in the second quarter led to a Lions touchdown, and a fumble from quarterback Blaine Gabbert also resulted in points for Detroit.
And penalties continue to haunt the 49ers. San Francisco was flagged 11 times for 65 yards. Third-down conversions also continue to be problematic.
At 4-11, the 49ers look to be reaching for a higher draft pick—one of the few bonuses they have from losing this contest against the now 6-9 Lions.
Let's break down San Francisco's final road contest of the 2015 season.
Position Grades for 49ers
Blaine Gabbert bounced back from his three-interception game last week and finished with 225 passing yards and a passer rating of 106.2. He also posted two touchdowns against zero interceptions.
But Gabbert's costly fumble in the second quarter ended up being recovered by Detroit's defense on the 49ers 1-yard line.
Running Back: C+
Jarryd Hayne got the start at running back, but statistically, the recently acquired DuJuan Harris overshadowed him. Harris finished the contest with 73 yards on 11 carries, which exceeded Hayne's 27 yards.
Harris had some impressive first-half carries before Detroit's defense largely contained him in the second half.
Wide Receiver: D
But the 49ers offense didn't spend much effort getting its wide receivers involved in the play-calling. San Francisco's leading receiver was tight end Vance McDonald. And wide receiver Torrey Smith picked up the 49ers' second touchdown of the contest.
Tight End: C
San Francisco got on the scoreboard first, thanks to an opening-drive touchdown reception by McDonald. He is also coming off a forgettable effort from last week, in which two bobbled would-be catches ended up being intercepted.
He posted five catches for 61 yards in addition to the end-zone score.
Offensive Line: C-
The 49ers offensive line continues to be patchwork to close out the season. Rookie right tackle Trent Brown got the start with fellow lineman Erik Pears moving over to right guard. Fellow guard Andrew Tiller relieved left guard Alex Boone (knee), who was placed on season-ending injured reserve in advance of the game.
San Francisco's O-line had some gaffes in pass protection, but the line appears to be coming together better compared to earlier this season. Three sacks to Gabbert weren't entirely on the line.
Defensive Line: B-
Nose tackle Ian Williams continues to have a solid season and should be in the 49ers' future plans, considering he'll be a free agent in 2016.
Williams had six tackles and one pass defended, and as a whole, the 49ers defensive line helped hold Detroit's running game to a net total of 87 yards.
On one hand, linebacker NaVorro Bowman continues to play at a high level and led the team with 10 tackles and half a sack.
But, alongside him, Gerald Hodges had some problems in tackling as well as avoiding penalties.
San Francisco got some reinforcements on the outside with linebacker Aaron Lynch returning from a concussion. But veteran linebacker Ahmad Brooks supplied a bit more of the pass rush with 1.5 sacks.
Defensive Back: D
Facing off against Lions wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate meant a busy day for San Francisco's secondary. This unit's game plan seemed to be effective early on as the 49ers held Johnson to just one reception in the first half.
But Johnson and the Lions receiving game started ripping off chunks of yards after halftime. Detroit's leading receiver would finish with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Young defensive backs Kenneth Acker, Dontae Johnson and Jaquiski Tartt all have plenty of promise. But they also continue to reveal why they're still developing.
Special Teams: F
Along with Gabbert's costly fumble, one could make the argument Detroit's successful fake punt in the second quarter led the way to the Lions eventually taking control of the game. And this wasn't the only mistake from the 49ers special teams.
Wide receiver Bruce Ellington had two notable returns negated by holding penalties, and kicker Phil Dawson missed a field goal inside a dome—not a common occurrence by the veteran.
San Francisco's special teams will also need some work this offseason.
The 49ers' game plan seemed to have somewhat of an understandable approach during the first quarter and, to an extent, up until the half.
Yet San Francisco's offense went stagnant in the second half, which left the defense exposed and overworked. Detroit won the time-of-possession battle 36:30 to 23:30.
Dialing up effective plays on third down didn't exactly happen either. San Francisco converted just one third down on nine attempts.
Oh, and the 11 accepted penalties against San Francisco for 65 yards are also an indictment against the coaching staff.
Jarryd Hayne Gets the Start at Running Back
Running back Jarryd Hayne finally had a chance to redeem himself after being demoted to the practice squad earlier this season.
With running back Shaun Draughn (knee) unavailable and the 49ers not entirely comfortable with the recently acquired DuJuan Harris starting, the team signed Hayne back to the 53-man roster as left guard Alex Boone (knee) was placed on IR.
Hayne saw his fair share of action on the field with 27 yards on nine carries—an average of three yards per attempt.
San Francisco also tried to involve Hayne in the receiving game by having him run short dump-off routes as a relief valve for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Hayne managed five catches for 20 yards.
The former Australian rugby star will likely be a factor for the 49ers in Week 17, given how thin they are at the position.
Third-Down Woes Continue to Be a Problem
One of the more worrisome trends of the 49ers offense this season has been converting on third down.
Week 16 was no exception.
As mentioned before, the 49ers went 1-of-9 on third downs in Detroit—a continuation of what has gone wrong for San Francisco for almost all of 2015.
Entering this contest, the Niners offense had faced 186 third downs. The 49ers converted 56 of them, which is good for just over 30 percent.
The 49ers also started Week 16 with 66 plays of 3rd-and-10-plus yards to go—third-highest of any down-and-distance combinations San Francisco has faced this season.
So play-calling on third down isn't the only culprit. Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst hasn't exactly helped his team avoid those multiple 3rd-and-long plays this year either.
49ers Fall Flat in Second Half
San Francisco not only got its first end-zone score on an opening drive this year but also found its first first-quarter offensive touchdown of the season.
That's how bad things have been for the offense this year—a group that entered Week 16 dead last with just 202 points scored in 2015.
The 49ers managed to show some life in the first half, which led to some hope this side of the ball was turning things around even if the remainder of the schedule has little meaning aside from next year's draft order.
But any hopes of a continued effort over four quarters dried up in the second half.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area described what took place:
While Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers got off to a quick start, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford finished strong.
Stafford completed 29 of 37 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against a 49ers’ defense that featured a rotation of cornerbacks.
The 49ers rolled up 265 yards of total offense. But, then, the 49ers’ offense completely dried up in the second half. The 49ers finished with just 322 yards of total offense.
The 49ers, who came into the game with just 18 points scored in the first quarter this season, got into the end zone for the first time in the opening 15 minutes for the first time since the final game of last season.
Yes, Gabbert and the 49ers started off strong. But the Lions were able to do more than just answer back against a San Francisco team that was incapable of overcoming deficits.
Such an outcome shouldn't be much of a surprise out of this Niners offense.
NaVorro Bowman on the Loss
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman was the 49ers' leading tackler during the contest, but the Pro Bowler also had his share of missed tackles.
As has been the case for much of the season, Bowman recognized how San Francisco's young defense needs to grow and develop in this tough year.
Bowman alluded to the multitude of offsides penalties (seven in total) the 49ers suffered over the course of the contest.
"I believe I said 'watch the ball' about 50 or 60 times today," Bowman told reporters.
Penalties hurt the 49ers and allowed Detroit's offense to extend drives. And Bowman is 100 percent correct about the need for his young teammates to avoid making these mistakes.
Blaine Gabbert on the Sack and Fumble on the 49ers 1-Yard Line
San Francisco's loss could be boiled down to two specific plays: a successful fake punt by the Lions special teams unit and a costly fumble from quarterback Blaine Gabbert, which was recovered by Detroit's defense on the 49ers 1-yard line.
The Lions subsequently, and easily, punched the ball in for a touchdown.
"That's on me," Gabbert said during his postgame press conference. "I've just gotta hold onto it."
Gabbert also noted the entire team is going through its share of problems and growing pains.
"We have to find a way to come out and execute better," he said.
The 49ers executed fairly well in the first half, except for the two aforementioned mistakes. And yet the execution completely disappeared in the second half.
Jim Tomsula Comments on Penalties
Week 16 marks the second-to-last postgame press conference head coach Jim Tomsula will have this season—media sessions frequently marked by Tomsula trying to absorb the blame and problems behind his team's yearlong struggles in 2015.
But Tomsula also has to address the high number of penalties the 49ers have taken this season.
San Francisco had 11 more of these in Detroit, which suggests the coaching staff isn't doing an adequate job of teaching these still-developing players.
"There's no excuse for it," Tomsula said, per Jennifer Chan of Niners Nation.
No, there isn't any excuse for the number of penalties. And, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much of a solution either.
Solutions have evaded Tomsula and the 49ers for almost all of the season. And the franchise will be reaching for more of these answers this offseason amidst a whirlwind of questions.
Peter Panacy is a Featured Columnist covering the San Francisco 49ers for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.