Jan 29, 2024 - Sports

Motor City heartbreak: Detroit Lions' Super Bowl chances slip away

The Lions' Kindle Vildor attempts to intercept a pass intended for the 49ers' Brandon Aiyuk during the third quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

The 49ers' Brandon Aiyuk caught this ball after Kindle Vildor of the Lions attempted to intercept the pass during the third quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Lions' first Super Bowl appearance was within reach, but a second-half collapse doomed their chances and the San Francisco 49ers won Sunday night, 34-31.

Why it matters: It was a heartbreaking end to a memorable season that reminded the country just how much Detroit loves the Lions.

What they're saying: "Nothing's worse than almost making it," linebacker Alex Anzalone said on Fox's postgame broadcast. "These are the losses I'm going to remember forever."

State of play: Detroit's high-octane offense looked unstoppable early. Rushing touchdowns from Jameson Williams, David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs contributed to the Lions' surprising 24-7 halftime lead.

Yes, but: The 17-point lead evaporated in the third quarter thanks to a wild series of events: coach Dan Campbell's failed fourth-down gamble; San Francisco's ensuing 51-yard completion off the facemask of a Lions defender; and then Gibbs' lost fumble.

  • San Francisco eventually took a 34-24 lead late in the fourth quarter after scoring 27 unanswered points.
  • Williams scored his second touchdown with about a minute remaining, but it was too late.
  • Detroit couldn't recover the onside kick and the 49ers ran out the clock.

Between the lines: Campbell stayed true to his aggressive coaching style, twice going for it on fourth down when the Lions were in field goal range.

  • Both attempts failed, but Campbell said during his postgame press conference that he didn't regret his decisions.
  • "It just didn't work out," a dejected Campbell said.

The other side: San Francisco will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on Feb. 11.

What we're watching: Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson — known for creative play designs and effective gameplans — very well could have coached his last game for Detroit.

The bottom line: An NFC Championship game, two playoff wins at Ford Field and a division title made this Lions season unforgettable. Campbell is a charismatic leader, and Detroit heads into next season with Super Bowl expectations.

  • But it still feels like they blew this one.
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