The Detroit Lions finally broke into the win column this year thanks to turnovers and a complete game from every aspect of the team.
Going into the Week Three game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Detroit Lions were 0-2 and looked nothing like a competitive team. Many expected the team to drop their third straight game of the season to a team led by quarterback Kyler Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury. Instead, Detroit pulled off a last-second 26-23 win over the Cardinals.
The Cardinals were 2-0 heading into the game against the Lions with a big win against the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers and a win versus the middling Washington Football Team. Most people around the league expected the Cardinals offense to shred the Lions’ defense, putting up too many points for the Lions’ offense to keep up with them.
Murray had thrown for 516 yards coming into the game and ran for another 158. He had two interceptions to two passing touchdowns, adding another three scores on the ground. Leading wide-out Deandre Hopkins had caught 22 receptions (on 25 targets) for 219 yards and a touchdown.
The Detroit Lions defense had been awful the previous two weeks, giving up 35 and 27 points to the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. In both games, the Bears and Packers carved up the defense on the ground and then took advantage of an injury-riddled secondary when they dropped back to pass. Needless to say, it was expected that Murray and co. would once again carve up the Lions’ defense.
However, the Lions had other plans and limited the total damage done by the Cardinals offense to just 23 points and 377 yards. While there were too many instances of wide-open receivers running around the field, the Lions were more stingy on defense this week, allowing just 270 yards through the air and had tight coverage on the first of Murray’s touchdown throws.
Most importantly, the Lions made Murray pay on a number of throws, intercepting three passes on the afternoon. One came on a deflection off of the hands of a receiver but the other two were thanks to good coverage from linebacker Jamie Collins and excellent closing speed from rookie corner Jeff Okudah.
The Lions also greatly improved their run defense, allowing just over 100 yards in the game and just four yards per carry against them. The longest run they allowed was also only 15 yards.
This defensive unit looked much better this week than last. There’s no doubt that (perhaps for the first time in the Patricia era) the defense had just as much to do with the win as the offense did.
The offense also did their part by coming through when it mattered most.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford looked like he was quite rusty the first two weeks of the season and it looked like that rust might still be following him into the game against Arizona. Instead, Stafford led his unit to 26 points, throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns while completing 22 of his 31 attempts.
Stafford only had one truly terrible throw, missing tight end Jesse James in the back of the end-zone on a second down. Other than that, his receivers dropped (by my count) two passes and he had another one clang into the back of running back D’Andre Swift when the rookie didn’t realize he was the first read on the play. Overall, Stafford had a good performance that was able to get the Lions a week three victory.
Elsewhere on the offense, Adrian Peterson was the focal point on the ground, carrying the ball 22 times for 75 yards. The Lions only gave four other carries to anyone else, three to runner Kerryon Johnson and one on an end-around to receiver Jamal Agnew.
Receiving wise, the Lions spread the ball out very well, completing a pass to nine different targets. Wide-out Kenny Golladay was the Lions’ leader in catches (6) and yards (57) and also tied for the lead in targets (7). Golladay also had to climb the ladder for a touchdown on a high pass from Stafford.
Others that made an impact in the passing game were T.J. Hockenson, who caught four passes for 53 yards, and tight end Jesse James, who caught three passes for 38 yards and a big touchdown. Swift and receiver Marvin Jones also both had big catches for a first down at different points in the game.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game ended up not even counting as Stafford heaved a perfectly placed 53-yard pass to receiver Marvin Hall that would’ve been a go-ahead touchdown for the Lions with just under two minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitiai was called for holding on the play, wiping out what was a great throw-and-catch from Stafford and Hall.
The game’s savior wound up being none other than kicker Matt Prater, who nailed all four of his field-goal attempts (and both PATs), including the game-winner as time expired. He hit on field goals from distances of 37, 24, 35, and 39 (game-winning).
The biggest take-away from all of this is that every aspect of the team came together to get this week three win. The defense had three turnovers and limited the big-plays allowed and the offense played turn-over free football and kept the defense off the field.
And perhaps the biggest factor was the special teams played great. They didn’t allow any big returns while getting a few themselves, Prater was money all game long, and punter Jack Fox was once again elite punting the ball four times for an average of 55.5 yards and landing three of them inside the 20, including one inside the two-yard line.
It wasn’t always pretty, and they had your heart pumping pretty hard much of the fourth quarter, but the Lions were able to pull out a three-point victory thanks to a combined effort from three phases of the team.