SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The result is what matters, the final score. It’s wonderful to perform flawlessly, to play to a level worthy of coaching texts and highlight videos. But however you do get there, at the end what matters in the NFL is who has the most points.
On a warm Sunday in September, with the 75,000 seats at Levi’s Stadium maybe three-quarters full , at most, and with imperfection all too evident in the passing game—are six sacks enough evidence?—the San Francisco 49ers were able to beat the Detroit Lions, 30-27.
Which means they now have a 1-1 record and unlike his rookie season as head coach, 2017, Kyle Shanahan will not continuously be asked when he’ll get his first win of the year. After two games, he has it and has a measure of satisfaction.
“The win feels good,” said Shanahan. “It took me a while last year to get that win”
Ten games to be exact. But this time only two games, which in Shanahan’s mind was one game too many.
“I wish it was last week,” he said, “but I’m very happy. It was tough last year. I’m happy for our guys. I thought our defense played its butts off. Our special teams made some huge plays, especially D.J. Read.
“I thought we ran the heck out of the ball. There was a little struggle in the passing game, with the receivers, tight end and quarterback, but we found a way to win.”
Or the 0-2 Lions, who botched up an interception that brought the ball to the Niners seven with 2:24 to play, with a penalty that nullified the pick, found a way to lose.
Why the Niners, leading by three with the ball on their own 43, were throwing is beyond comprehension—or coaching.
They got away with it, and maybe that once outdated slogan about the fans, the faithful, should be revised to “Faithful then, fortunate now.”
Nothing goes perfect, said Shanahan, the offensive coordinator for Atlanta’s Super Bowl team before he took over the 49ers.”But we’ve got to do a better job with our passing. It’s not all on the blocking. We’ve got to get men open, and the quarterback shouldn’t hold the ball that long. We’ll look at it and correct it.”
No correction is needed for Matt Breida, who along with Alfred Morris is sharing the position of starting running back, fill-ins for Jerrick McKinnon, who is on injured reserve. In the third quarter, gliding effortlessly following his blocking intelligently—including a juke near the goal line—Breida raced 66 yards for a touchdown.
To echo the head coach, yes, they ran the heck out of the ball.
“It was just a great job y the O-line,” said Breida. “They opened up a big hole on the play, and I found Pierre (wide receiver Pierre Garcon. He became my fullback down th4e field essentially . . . He’s a monster. He’s fearless, and he’s not afraid to block.”
So running worked well. Passing worked less well.
Jimmy Garoppolo held the ball too long at times. Often the quarterback takes six sacks, the team takes a loss, but as Shanahan said the running game was effective, 190 yards of the Niners 346 total. The Lions’ total was 427, including 329 passing on 34 of 53 by Matthew Stafford (Garoppolo was 18 of 26 for 206 yards and two touchdowns), but Detroit was stymied near the goal line.
“Too many penalties,” said first-year Lions coach Matt Patricia. Detroit had 10 for105 yards, the Niners 9 for 66. “Too many mistakes. Too many plays there that obviously cost us the game. We had a game-changing play there that got called back”
The interception negated by defensive holding.
“That was a good thing,” said Garoppolo.
Getting pummeled while waiting to throw was not
“Got to get the ball out quicker,” said Garoppolo, “The offensive line played great today. We had a chance to blow them out. I think that comes with mental toughness. You can’t let human nature take over.”
What he meant was the tendency to ease up.
.Cornerback Richard Sherman emphasized that.
“A win’s a win,” Sherman agreed, “but it feels like a loss because we played like crap.”