FIRST DOWN: PENALTIES RUIN BIG PLAYS
For a minute there on the road in a hostile environment late against the 49ers, it appeared rookie safety Tracy Walker had made the first huge play of his young career. With the Lions trailing 30-27 late in the fourth quarter, Detroit's third-round pick this offseason stepped in front of a Jimmy Garoppolo pass at the San Francisco 44-yard line and returned the ball all the way down to the 49ers' 7-yard line with just over two minutes remaining. What a huge play by the rookie, right?
Wrong. All the way back down the field was a yellow flag on the Levi's Stadium plush green grass. A flag and a defensive holding penalty by teammate Quandre Diggs at the 49ers' 43-yard yard line negated the play and gave the 49ers a first down. The Lions eventually got the ball back, but all the way back at their 16-yard line with a minute and a half less time on the clock.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, a 73-yard Jamal Agnew punt-return touchdown was nullified by a blocking in the back penalty on the back side of the play.
In an eventual three-point loss, those big plays wiped off the board because of penalties are killers.
"Too many penalties, too many mistakes, too many plays that obviously cost us the game," head coach Matt Patricia said after the game. "We had some game-changing plays there that got called back."
The Lions finished the game with 10 penalties for 105 yards, but none were more damaging than those two in the fourth quarter on those huge plays.
SECOND DOWN: GAME OF INCHES
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was second in the NFL last season completing 39 passes of 25-plus yards. Stafford and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. were one of the best deep-ball connections in the league a year ago, but so far this year the two haven't had the same chemistry.
Stafford missed Jones on a few deep balls Sunday that could have been big plays. At least three times, Jones had a step on a defender, and Stafford just missed him.
"They are huge, right?" Stafford said after the game of those missed opportunities. "Not going to get a lot of opportunities against a team like that. They want to keep everything in front of them. Two for sure to Marv (Jones) that I thought I had chances at that I just overthrew.
"I have to hit those and we have to find a way to connect on them. He's doing a great job getting open down the field, I just have to give him chances."
Stafford finished 34-of-53 passing for 347 yards and three touchdowns, but still it felt like he left a number of plays on the field on those missed opportunities deep down the field to Jones.
THIRD DOWN: RUN DEFENSE WOES
For the second straight week, the Lions' defense allowed an opponent to rush for more than 150 yards, but even more concerning is that for the second straight week Detroit gave up a big touchdown run over 60 yards that helped skew the numbers.
"They had a big play run that skews it again," Patricia admitted. "If you get one run for whatever it is 60 or 70 yards, then obviously that's going to be a problem."
"Not good enough. I have to coach it better, I have to get it stopped. We have to stop doing that, so that's on me."
The Jets hit the Lions on a 62-yard touchdown run on a stretch play to the right last week that helped turn that score lopsided in the third quarter. The 66-yard run by San Francisco running back Matt Breida in the third quarter Sunday, on a similar stretch play to the right, gave the 49ers a 27-13 lead at the time.
In all, San Francisco recorded 190 yards on the ground.
Detroit's run defense, and specifically giving up chunk runs, has been a glaring issue early this season.
View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 2 game against the San Francisco 49ers.
FOURTH DOWN: DIALING UP PRESSURE
The Lions were without defensive end Ziggy Ansah against the 49ers Sunday due to a shoulder injury.
Without their best pass rusher, it was a fair question to wonder before the game where Detroit's pass rush would come from.
It turns out it would come from the linebacker position, with a number of different players getting into the mix.
Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard recorded two sacks apiece, and linebacker Christian Jones and linebacker Eli Harold also got to Garoppolo once in the contest.
The Lions weren't able to generate much of a pass rush after Ansah went down with that shoulder injury last week. It was a good sign the Lions could scheme and use their talented group of pass-rushing linebackers to generate pressure in this one.
"It just shows you that we have a next-man-up mentality," Harold said. "That's very rare for one of your top guys to be out and guys to suck it up and say, 'Hey, we need to go out there and perform, also.'"