Eight Lions Big-Play Makers of the 2016 Season

Jan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11) makes a catch during the second quarter against Green Bay Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins (24) at Ford Field. Packers won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11) makes a catch during the second quarter against Green Bay Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins (24) at Ford Field. Packers won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

This season had several highlight-worthy plays by more than a handful of players. You can easily include every single late-game comeback by quarterback Matthew Stafford, all eight of them. But take Stafford out of the equation and things level out a bit.The Lions had a good, solid season, due in no small part to several players that came through to win games or put Detroit in position to take it home.

Here are another eight of the Lions’ big-play makers of the 2016 season and just a smattering of the plays that helped bring the Lions to their winning season.

The O-Line

The offensive line was decent this year, but they had a few moments of greatness. Most notably week 14 versus the Chicago Bears. Matthew Stafford searched in vain for a target, and when he didn’t find anyone readily available, decided to run it in by himself for a touchdown. It looked easy thanks to the blocking of the o-line, creating a nice hole for Stafford to run through. Another example of the blocking skills of the line came in week 2 versus the Titans. Stafford had no options that he liked so he decided to run for it. Only one defender broke through the line to reach Stafford, but it was too late and he earned 7 yards and a first down. He broke a tackle and went another couple of yards before getting hammered to put a stop to his progress.

Related Story: Stafford show Trucking Skills

Defensive Line

While some would say that the defense had its struggles this year, there were teams that the Lions D gave fits. For my money, one key play stood out, showing the potential that this team still has. The Lions had allowed zero rushing touchdowns going into week 6 versus the LA Rams. While that stat didn’t stand after the game, the line stopped a short run by Todd Gurley to prevent a touchdown and close out the first half. There were a handful of big d-line plays this season that made highlight reels but this one deserves a top spot.

Andre Roberts

Andre Roberts might be a controversial choice but given the skill he showed on special teams this year, he earns a nod. He blew past everyone, punter included, in a run versus Jacksonville, resulting in a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Jags had punted from their own end zone and dropped it into the waiting arms of Roberts. He showed them the error of their ways, and sent a warning to future opposing punters. Roberts also had a beautiful end zone touchdown versus LA, where he broke out of defensive holding to catch the ball for the score. The best play of his season, adding to his impressive punt returns, Roberts ran 85 yards against Chicago, bringing Detroit back in the fourth quarter but they would ultimately lose the game.

Related Story: Andre Roberts burns Chicago

Marvin Jones Jr.

Marvin Jones Jr. had some noteworthy plays that get him on my list. Most impressive was a 73-yard reception in week 3 against Green Bay. He caught a bomb that Matthew Stafford launched down field and threw up a nasty stiff arm to lose his cover man and impressively stayed in bounds for the touchdown. Week 5, he hauled in a beautiful end zone catch vs Philadelphia, where Jones caught a narrow throw and skillfully double-tapped his toes in bounds for a touchdown. In week 7, Jones burned star corner Josh Norman for a 52-yard reception against the Redskins. Yeah, he earned it.

Matt Prater

Few kickers in the NFL have a leg the caliber of Matt Prater’s. He saved more than a couple of games for Detroit to solidify himself as an all-star kicker. Down by 2 with 4 seconds left on the clock versus the now-NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, Prater kicked wide right. The delay of game flag gave him another shot, but 5 yards longer. Take 2, Prater nails a 48-yard bomb plus an extra ten yards or so behind the goal, just for good measure. He landed a 59-yard kick versus Chicago to close out the first half in week 4. Even more impressive was his game-tying kick against Minnesota at 14:58 of the fourth quarter. Prater cleared 58 yards, sending the game into overtime. The word on Matt Prater: that kid is clutch.

Anquan Boldin

Detroit signed Boldin in the offseason and It proved to be a worthwhile investment. A few key plays evidenced the validity of his spot on the roster. The game vs the Washington Redskins ended in a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left. Green Bay was witness to an Aaron Rodgers-worthy hail mary touchdown catch in end zone, where Boldin was smothered by 4 defenders to pull in the catch, even slammed into Golden Tate and still held onto the ball. He fills a hole left by Calvin Johnson’s retirement.

Golden Tate

Speaking of Golden Tate, here’s a dependable player that Matthew Stafford can count on week in and week out. He had a solid run in the game against the Rams, setting up a touchdown. He ended the game against Minnesota in by breaking 2 tackles and flipping into the end zone, scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Week 13 in New Orleans was more of the same, with Tate hauling in a 66-yard catch for a touchdown. But perhaps one of the most impressive catches was versus the Redskins, where Tate put himself in the right place to catch a ricocheted ball and avoid what looked like the entire Washington defense to put his team within striking distance. Tate will be a force on Detroit’s offense for years to come.

Big-Play Slay

Without question, Darius Slay earned his spot at the top of my list. Looking at the highlight reels for Big-Play Slay gives a nice picture of how good the Lions’ secondary really can be. He made several key moves on the field that earned him game-winning honors versus many opponents this year. His field awareness has improved steadily and it showed in his play. Week 12 pitted Detroit against division rival Minnesota. As the game was closing out, Slay intercepted Sam Bradford to set up the game-winning field goal by Matt Prater.

San Diego had similar problems against Slay. Phillip Rivers was driving down field in hopes of closing the gap before halftime and with 12 seconds left, he lofted a pass to the end zone, resulting in another big play to add to Slay’s resume.

Related Story: Slay Intercepts Rivers with 12 Seconds Left in Half

Big-Play Slay helped usher Philadelphia’s rookie QB Carson Wentz into the big league with a big dose of reality, forcing the first interception of his career. Not only did Slay force a fumble with less than 3 minutes left in the game, but he also caught the close-out interception in their week 5 nail-biter. You can bet that these will make the training tapes in the Eagles’ offseason.

Everyone’s “best of” list will vary, but these plays were big boosts to get Detroit in the W column. Grabbing some new players to solidify the existing roster will make them even better. Keep up the good work next year, Detroit.

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