• Shelly Holt

Home is Where the Heart Is: What the Opener Means for the 49ers

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

Losing to Minnesota on the road wasn’t the way San Francisco wanted to start its 73rd NFL season. But, it certainly will be a learning lesson.

In their 24-16 loss to the Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the 49ers had four turnovers, a lost fumble, three interceptions, were 1 of 4 in the red zone, had crucial drops, and experienced a number of miscommunications on the field.

Despite this collection of mistakes and against the odds, the Niners fought their way back from an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter and nearly tied a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the final moments.

Like Rocky Balboa who stood up to the great Apollo Creed, San Francisco kept getting back up, only to succumb to Minnesota in the end. Hopefully, like Rocky did in the fictional Hollywood series, the 49ers will work hard to come back and evolve into a real NFL Heavyweight in the weeks to come.

A great way to start would be to triumph over the Lions this Sunday, September 16 during the Niners’ home opener at Levi’s Stadium. A win would not only be a crucial first step towards finding redemption from their first game, it would also prove to the football community that San Francisco is the real deal.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said aptly on Sunday, “We believe we are a good team, but you aren’t until you can start beating some.” Well, that sentiment will hold true this week as the Motor City team has a newly-reinforced core group of playmakers who won’t go down easily and a first-year head coach (Matt Patricia) known to be a defensive scheming genius.

Detroit’s major acquisitions in the offseason included veteran running back LeGarrette Blount and second-round pick Kerryon Johnson, both who have 100-yard rushing capabilities. Those offensive players are in addition to solid back Theo Riddick, solid late-game quarterback Matt Stafford, and high-quality receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, two of PFF’s highest graded players in the NFC North last season, plus budding star Kenny Golladay.

The Lions defense is likely to be a second-tier performing group which could benefit Garoppolo and company. But, there are bright spots particularly in the secondary with cornerbacks Darius Slay and Glover Quin and in the pass rush lead by Ezekiel Ansah. Patricia’s scheming will also give this group a boost.

And then there’s Detroit’s special teams, which are considered one of the best groups in the league. Kicker Matt Prater, the 34-year old Pro Bowl alternate, finished 2017 with the highest field-goal and extra-point grade of any kicker in the NFL. He also is known for his long-distance abilities (he made seven 50-plus-yard field goals last season). He is a real weapon and one of the reasons the Lions tend to succeed at late-game comebacks.

As a whole, Sunday may be the perfect test for the 49ers to go into their home opener after a winnable loss on the road riddled with mistakes. The Lions may not be a Clubber Lang if San Francisco was Rocky, but they will be a competent, beatable opponent that the Niners should find themselves knocking out, especially with about 70,000 fans in attendance cheering them on.


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