Go ahead and dub the Detroit Lions the cardiac cats. At the rate they’re scoring clutch, nail-biter victories in 2014, there might be no other nickname as fitting that’s available.
Sunday, when playing the Miami Dolphins, the Lions appeared once again to be on a one-way track to frustrating defeat after a seemingly roaring start. The offense was inconsistent, and despite a hot start, the defense started to allow chunks of yardage at inopportune times. Kicker Matt Prater even managed to misfire in the worst possible way once again.
None of that, though, would stop the Lions from collecting on another successful hunt. After a ferocious defensive stand, Detroit picked up the needed chunks on a solid defense to get the team in field goal range. Not satisfied with that, Matthew Stafford slung the ball all over the field, finally hitting Theo Riddick in the back of the end zone for the game winning score.
To the disbelief of many, Detroit had won 20-16, scoring their latest improbable victory in a season that’s becoming more improbable by the second.
Calvin Johnson’s Combustibility Has Been Missed. The Lions didn’t do much Sunday against the Dolphins, but the one score they did have early was courtesy of another fantastic deep catch by Johnson in the end zone. With Detroit driving late, Johnson also ran a beautiful route along the sideline and kept things moving in the right direction. Golden Tate is another magnificent complementary weapon, but Johnson is the best kind of combustible, and capable of making a variety of tough and clutch catches. Matthew Stafford had to be thrilled to see his security blanket back on the field.
Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Jim Caldwell pulled out all the stops to win on Sunday, faking a punt early and collecting a massive gain which led to the first score. Later, Caldwell faked yet another punt, with Detroit coming up just short. The staff also rolled the dice on fourth down medium, getting bailed out by an outstanding catch from Johnson. Say what you will about the gutsy coaching, but it was clear Caldwell was playing to win and knew the significance of the game. The coach admitted afterward that the staff had seen things on tape that led him to the fakes. When a good game plan meets a committed general, the results often have a way of sorting themselves out in the end.
James Ihedigbo Continues To Impress. Detroit’s defensive effort featured plenty of stars, but Ihedigbo was particularly noticeable from the safety spot all afternoon. Not only did the man nicknamed “dig” collect a big interception, but he made plenty of pass breakups including a key one late and was a sure tackler much of the afternoon on the edges. What a free agency steal the veteran is proving to be for a defense clearly benefitting from his steady hand on the back end.
The Kicking Game’s Still A Problem. Regardless of the reasoning behind Matt Prater’s whiff, Detroit cannot keep making such mistakes and expect to keep winning. At some point, a special teams gaffe like they made on Sunday will come back to haunt them in a significant way, meaning things have to get cleaned up one way or another. Injury on the interior of the line may have caused the breakdown up front, but Prater has to get better lift on his kicks. Fortunately for the Lions, he was perfect from 50 yards later in the day, shaking off the miss. Still, had the game come down to Prater leg to square things up, forgive anyone who wasn’t completely confident in seeing the match reach overtime.
Credit the Defense As Much As The Offense For This Comeback. Any time the star quarterback and receiver lead a game-wining drive, there will be a justifiable amount of accolade that heads their way. Today, though, Detroit needs to thank their defense just as much for performing in the clutch. With just over three minutes left, the Lions had to stop Miami or likely lose the game. They only yielded five yards while letting less than 30 seconds expire on the clock. The stand was something fans have become used to, and allowed the offense time and space to operate for the game-winning drive.
Lions? Theo Riddick stepped in for Reggie Bush and snagged the game winning touchdown pass in a tight window. Joique Bell’s solid, punishing runs helped set the tone early. After being pressed into duty, Travis Swanson and Cornelius Lucas did an excellent job holding the offensive line together. Ziggy Ansah made a number of big plays on defense along with Ihedigbo, and Sam Martin showed some incredible ability not just with his leg, but with his arm as a passer on the fake punts.
Lambs? Kellen Davis was pressed into duty after Brandon Pettigrew departed, and was largely useless in the passing game, even collecting a bad penalty. Defensively, Josh Bynes did the same thing, and didn’t come back to the field to make much of an impact. Prater was good from distance, but did have a kick blocked that set up a Miami score that could have proven tough to overcome.
What About The Key Matchup? Coming into this game, it was stated a wise matchup to watch would be Detroit’s wide receivers against a tough Dolphins’ secondary. After some trouble early, Miami did a great job to neutralize the impact of Johnson and Tate, but couldn’t hold the fort forever, especially with Cortland Finnegan suffering an unfortunate injury.
Battle Wounds: Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle each went down with injuries, but their replacements did an excellent job. Reggie Bush seemed to tweak an injury and wasn’t as effective later, and Brandon Pettigrew was also nicked up. Obviously, from Detroit’s perspective, all are concerning to watch.
Number To Note: 9, the number of quarterback hits Detroit’s defense put on Ryan Tannehill. Though the quarterback hung tough and made some plays, he never seemed comfortable in the pocket, and was often running for his life. That tone was set early after a pair of devastating sacks and knock downs. In all, it was a good effort for the Lions to hurry Tannehill and force him to move the pocket and throw on the run.
He Said It: “It’s a total team thing, it’s not an individual thing. You gotta rely on everybody.” —Matthew Stafford. Afterward, the quarterback deflected the credit from himself following another successful comeback on his watch, instead preferring to spread the kudos around. It’s true, without the efforts of plenty, the Lions don’t forge another stunning comeback.