It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t the spectacular aerial show that Lions fans were expecting. But it was a win. Just barely. The Detroit Lions had to come from behind, to defeat the St. Louis Rams 27-23 before a relieved 62,315 patrons at Ford Field.
The Lions took the opening kickoff, and promptly marched down the field with ease. It looked like the game would be a walk in the park for the Honolulu Blue and Silver. But something happened when the Lions reached the 3 yard line that would set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Matthew Stafford, who was 6 for 7 during the drive, threw an awful pass, that was intercepted by rookie corner Janoris Jenkins, who returned it to the 35 yard line. The Lions defence held the Rams to a field goal, as the message was sent. This wasn’t going to be easy.
The offence did march down the field and this time converted, as Joique Bell plunged in from a yard out, giving the Lions the lead early in the second quarter. The defence then started to flex its muscle. Criticized for its lack of discipline in 2011, the front four stayed away from the shenanigans, and focused on football. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh each recorded a sack and were in Sam Bradford’s face all game long.
But Stafford was not on his game. After a solid punt return by Stefan Logan which had the Lions deep in Rams territory, Stafford threw his second pick of the game, Jo-Lunn Dunbar picked off the Lions quarterback, and lumbered down to the Lions 49. The Rams drove down to the red zone, but the Lions defence once again, held the Rams to a field goal, cutting the Lions lead to one.
The offence returned but it would get worse. Stafford threw his third pick of the half, as Cortland Finnegan cut in front of Calvin Johnson, and returned the interception 31 yards, to the house, giving the Rams a six point lead. Stafford went to the bench, more dazed and confused than Led Zeppelin in 1969. The fans were very concerned as Ford Field went very quiet.
The Lions did salvage a late drive, as Stafford found Megatron for a 51 yard gain, setting up a 41 yard field goal from the ageless Jason Hansen at the gun. The Lions were only down three, but were very fortunate not to be down by double figures, as the Rams had chances to bury the Lions early.
The second half started off quietly as the defences adjusted, while the offences had difficulty moving the ball. Hansen’s second field goal was the only scoring play in the third quarter. Stafford was also starting to feel pressure from the Rams defence, as they added some blitz packages to their base cover two defence. The good news for Lions fans was that the interceptions had stopped as Stafford either threw the ball away, or took the sack.
The final quarter saw the Rams take the lead, thanks to a Bradford touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson from 23 yards out. Things were looking bleak as the Lions offence weren’t generating anything, while the Rams were showing more life and spunk than the Lions.
With their backs to the wall, the Lions responded however, as Stafford led the offence on a 5 play, 80 yard drive, which was capped off by a 5 yard touchdown run by Kevin Smith. But give the Rams credit for showing some mettle of their own, as Bradford led the Rams down the field on a 13 play 52 yard march. The drive did stall as the Lions bend but don’t break defence did just that, forcing Greg Zuerlein to kick his third field goal of the game, giving the Rams a three-point lead with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter. Cue the heroics.
Stafford for all his faults today, will come out looking like a hero, thanks to his leadership of a 9 play 80 yard drive, which was finished off by a 5 yard TD pass Smith to with just 10 seconds left on the clock, giving the Lions a thrilling victory.
Some final numbers. Stafford completed 32 out of 48 passes for 355 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Megatron ended up with 6 catches for 111 yards. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught 5 passes for 77 yards, but should have had more as he dropped a sure touchdown pass in the third quarter. Smith carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards and a touchdown. Smith also caught 4 passes out of the backfield for 29 yards, and the game winning touchdown.
For the Rams, Bradford completed 17 out of 25 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. Running back Stephen Jackson struggled as he only gained 53 yards on 21 carries. Danny Amendola was the Rams leading receiver, catching 5 passes for 70 yards.
Game ball: Stafford will get it for his game winning drive, despite the 3 interceptions. What was most impressive about Stafford was that he shook off the early adversity and showed some maturity and poise at crunch time. The front four also deserve kudos for applying pressure on Bradford, and giving the Lions a chance to win the game.
1-0 is better than 0-1. But the Lions will need to be better next week in San Francisco. The 49ers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and will be ready for prime time. The Lions will have their hand full.
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