Jarryd Hayne was on the 49ers practice squad Saturday morning and in the team’s starting backfield Sunday afternoon.
Starter Shaun Draughn’s knee injury meant Hayne, who hadn’t been in uniform since Week 6, would get at least some action against the Lions. But the fact that the Aussie started the game was a bit of a surprise to everyone.
“It was during warmup, I think, just getting told that I’m going to take the first play and just rolling with it,” he said.
The former rugby star did just that. He gained four yards on his first carry. On his second, he broke two tackles and ended up with a career-high 11-yard run.
Hayne began the season as the 49ers’ punt returner but was relieved of those duties in October after a handful of flubs. He was cut Oct. 31 and signed to the practice squad, where he said he’s made steady strides in his new sport.
“That’s been huge for me to be able to get that experience,” he said. “It’s invaluable because I’ve, obviously, got so much to catch up on, and I think today I felt great out there. There are one or two things that I could have done better, but overall, I was happy.”
Hayne didn’t play any snaps on special teams. He finished with nine carries for 27 yards, but like most of the team’s running backs, he mostly was used as a pass catcher in the second half.
He had five catches for 20 yards and was quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s target on a fourth-and-three pass in the fourth quarter that came up shy of the first-down marker.
“It was going to be a bang-bang play,” Gabbert said. “Their linebacker did a good job of shutting off the shallow cross, and we knew it would be close. But it’s a game of inches and we fell short.”
Johnson on Johnson – Dontae Johnson started his second game of the season at right cornerback and had a mixed outing.
The 49ers liked the way the 6-foot-2 cornerback matched up with Detroit’s top receiver, 6-5 receiver Calvin Johnson, and early in the first quarter Dontae Johnson knocked a pass away from the Detroit receiver in the end zone.
Johnson, however, was in coverage on Detroit's first touchdown, a 29-yard pass from Matt Stafford to receiver TJ Jones. Johnson also moved to linebacker in the 49ers’ “dime” defenses, allowing Kenneth Acker – and occasionally, Marcus Cromartie – to enter the game.
Calvin Johnson finished with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, which came against cornerback Tramaine Brock.
Dial injured – The 49ers’ once-impressive defensive line depth shrunk a little more when Quinton Dial left the game in the second half because of a back injury and Arik Armstead limped to the sideline because of a lower leg injury.
Armstead said X-rays on his leg were negative and that he should be OK. Neither he nor Dial returned to the game. The 49ers finished the contest with Tank Carradine, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Mike Purcell and Ian Williams on the defensive line.
Mr. 1,000 – Anquan Boldin hit a major milestone in his career – 1,000 catches – on the first play of the game, but the 49ers receiver wasn’t in a mood to celebrate.
“At this point it doesn’t mean much,” he said. “I’d rather take the win.”
Boldin finished with five catches for 27 yards and leapfrogged ex-Steeler receiver Hines Ward on the all-time receptions list. Boldin is now in 12th place with 1,004 receptions.
Et cetera – Rookie right tackle Trent Brown received good reviews for his first NFL start.
“First day out, he represented himself,” coach Jim Tomsula said. Brown, meanwhile, said he thought he played well but that his run blocking was ahead of his pass protection.
▪ Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch started after missing the past two games because of concussion symptoms. He finished with one tackle and no hits on the quarterback. Fellow outside linebacker Corey Lemonier was inactive.
▪ Receiver Bruce Ellington had three catches for a career-high 55 yards, including a career-long 38-yard catch in the second quarter.