The stage was set for the Detroit Lions on Sunday night as the team squared off against the No. 1 seed San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. With a Super Bowl trip on the line for the winner, fans all over the campus of Michigan State tuned into CBS to gear up for one of the biggest Detroit Lions games ever.
'I honestly feel robbed': Lions fans heartbroken over NFC Championship loss vs. San Francisco 49ers
However, in a close game fueled by momentum, the Lions fell short of reaching their first-ever Super Bowl appearance, ultimately losing 34-31. A game filled with mishaps like dropped passes, missed tackles and questionable coaching decisions left the Lions just short of the Super Bowl. This game, which meant so much to the state of Michigan, has now broken the hearts of many. A week that started off with Lions chanting "Jared Goff" during the MSU hockey game Friday now leaves fans roaming the streets of East Lansing in sadness and dismay.
"I think I'm just in shock right now," pre-nursing freshman Amy Esterdahl said. "The first half went so well, and I honestly thought we would win, but now I'm just in disbelief about what transpired. We had such a big lead, and it seemed gone in an instant. I really just can’t believe it."
The Lions started the game with a bang and scored on the third play of the game as wide receiver Jameson Williams broke off a 42-yard touchdown run. This was the start of an amazing first half by the Lions, as they would drive down the field and score two more touchdowns and a field goal, holding a weaponized 49ers offense to only seven points.
Yet, the second half painted a different story, as the Lions totally fell apart. Esterdahl describes watching the second half as "painful."
"It was a tale of two halves, and it made me feel sick," Esterdahl said. "We couldn't stop (San Francisco) and watching them move down the field like they did on every drive was unbearable. With all the mistakes that we had, along with the inability to stop them defensively, it's no wonder our lead evaporated."
It truly was a tale of two halves. To begin the third quarter, San Francisco kicker Jake Moody cut the lead down to 14 with a 43-yard field goal. In the following possession, Detroit mustered up a nice drive, but instead of electing to kick a field goal, they went for it on fourth down and did not convert.
Construction sophomore Jonah Summerhays said that it was aggressive decisions like this that allowed the 49ers back in the game.
"Throughout the game, San Francisco made the smart move to kick field goals," Summerhays said. "Us on the other hand, we're not as smart. I believe that if we didn't make some of those coaching mistakes, (we'd be) playing (in) the Super Bowl. I honestly feel robbed.”
After the Lions failed in their fourth down conversion, the momentum completely shifted. The 49ers offense suddenly came alive, with star running back Christian McCaffrey leading the Red and Gold offense down the field to cut the lead to seven. On the following possession for Detroit, rookie sensation running back Jahmyr Gibbs fumbled the football, allowing San Francisco's young quarterback Brock Purdy to find wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk to tie the game at 24 apiece.
Summerhays, who has been a Lions fan all his life, says the only way to describe how he’s feeling is just pure "pain." He recalls that after the Lions lost the lead, every "feel-good emotion" was sucked out of him.
To begin the fourth quarter, Moody put the 49ers up 27-24, allowing quarterback Jared Goff and the Lions the opportunity to get the ball back and take the lead. Unfortunately, while again in field goal range, the Lions elected to go for it on fourth down and again came up short. This allowed the 49ers to get the ball back with a short field ahead of them, giving Purdy and McCaffrey time to score and put the game out of reach.
However, even when things seemed dull and unwatchable for Lions fans, communications sophomore Ellie Johnson was proud of how her team fought.
"It was a great first half, and we just fell apart in the second half, but those things just happen sometimes," Johnson said. "I'm definitely hurting right now, but I've had a lot of fun watching the team this year."
After the 49ers went up by 10, the Lions drove down the field and scored a late touchdown through the air to make the score 34-31, but after an unsuccessful onside kick, it was too little too late and the 49ers took home their eighth NFC championship. San Francisco will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 11, airing on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.
"I know a lot of people might be down right now, I know I sure am, but this Detroit Lions team has a very bright future ahead of them," Johnson said. "They've definitely turned it around the past couple of years, and with this young talent and core that I love so much, I think we'll bounce back next year and hopefully do even better. We have the chemistry and youth mixed in with the undying love from the fans. It's going to be fun to see what the future holds."
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