Quick observations: Lions return for beating win that keeps playoff hopes alive
ATLANTA – Here we go again.
Go ahead, admit it. You thought so, didn’t you? And who could blame you after Detroit pushed late into the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Atlanta, then watched the Falcons bring football back to their throats. Todd Gurley finished with a 10-yard touchdown run, and Atlanta converted the 2-point conversion for a 22-16 lead with 1:03 to go.
And let’s be honest, with the way the Lions ended games under Matt Patricia, I felt like this thing was over.
Then Matthew Stafford hit four of his next five passes, including a 29-yard missile to Kenny Golladay that gave Detroit a shot from the Atlanta 11-yard line with 2 seconds left. Stafford was also under serious strain, but rolled to the left to avoid the pressure, then found TJ Hockenson sliding through the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game at 22.
They still needed a point after point attempt to win the game, and after Danny Amendola ripped off his helmet in celebration and gave him a mandatory unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, that attempt came from 48 yards. No gift for Matt Prater, who had just missed 47 yards at the end of the fourth quarter.
But this time, Prater split the uprights and ran off the pitch before officials even announced why there was more yellow laundry on the pitch. It doesn’t matter. It was an illegal Atlanta formation, and Detroit claimed a 23-22 win and its first consecutive winning streak since the first month of last season.
OK, so a two-game winning streak against a pair of one-win teams is nothing to write home about. Still, the Lions (3-3) have won three of their last four games and have now climbed back to 0.500 as they return home for a game against the Indianapolis Colts. At the very least, they’re set to play relevant football in November.
They entered the day just 1.5 games from the last wildcard spot in the NFC, and with a slew of winners remaining over the next month and a half, they remain very much alive despite how ugly things are.
Here are some more instant observations of the wild victory:
– TJ Hockenson’s winning touchdown was nice, and the throw was even better, but neither happened without Kenny Golladay’s continued exploits. The Lions were still on their own 40-yard line with 20 seconds left when Golladay caught that 29-yard pass through heavy traffic. If he doesn’t offer football, Detroit is probably looking at the barrel of a few Hail Marys. Instead, the Lions had just enough time to kick the football – 2 seconds to be exact – and then finish one last game. Give Stafford and Hockenson immense credit for their freelance touchdown, but none of that is going to happen if Golladay doesn’t play for Detroit. So I don’t know, maybe Detroit should consider paying the man already?
Yes, I know Matt Patricia wants to win with a dominant defense and a ball control attack. But for all the gains we’ve seen in the Detroit running game, this is still a team built around the pass. And we have already seen what this attack looks like without him in the first two games of the season. Hint: it wasn’t pretty. Since coming back he’s been doing stuff like in the clip below – which came in on a third and 13 no less, and led to a placement that closed Detroit at 14-13 in the third quarter. Then Golladay added that massive 29-yard catch in the middle and finished with six catches for 114 total yards. Detroit should have a pen and paper waiting for him at his locker after the game. Just do it.
– Give Romeo Okwara a lot of credit. The defensive end has quietly played well this season and had two more huge sacks in his own. The last one was particularly big, a bunch of sack that returned the ball to the Lions just after Matt Prater missed a field goal late in the fourth quarter. Prater ended up playing the mulligan on the ride that followed. Detroit’s pass rush hasn’t been very good this season, but Okwara has turned hot and now has five sacks in six games.
–The Lions made it fourth and second off the Atlanta 3-yard line in the second quarter, a refreshing and bold move from a coach who has been criticized for playing too cautiously over the years (and to rightly). But the playcall itself was a little odd, with Adrian Peterson getting the call from D’Andre Swift. It is difficult to understand. Swift ran better last week and ran better this week too. Sure enough, Peterson failed and the Falcons ran 98 yards the other way for a touchdown that gave them their first lead, 14-7, just 29 seconds before halftime.
Swift, the 35th overall pick in the draft, is the future of the Lions backfield. He was also good enough to be present. He was particularly good inside the 5-yard line, scoring twice in four attempts. So why do the Lions keep turning to a 35-year-old instead? Stop messing around and give him the football.
Swift added a touchdown later, his third straight game finding the end zone. The last Lions rookie to do so: Mikel Leshoure in 2012, almost ten years ago.
– Trey Flowers didn’t start and had a reduced workload, possibly due to the wrist injury that limited him to training last week. But that didn’t stop him from making one of the biggest games of the game for Detroit. Atlanta was going for the fourth and short while maintaining a one point lead in the fourth quarter, and Cory Undlin made up an area blitz that quickly hit Matt Ryan. The veteran QB must have unloaded the ball and just didn’t expect Flowers to fall into the coverage area in the apartment. The flowers pushed football back to an important stop.
– The Lions started the same offensive line for a third straight week: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Tyrell Crosby. And why not? These guys played really well and played really well again in Atlanta.
– How good was the punter Jack Fox? Consider this: Sam Martin was the only player in Lions history to hit multiple 67-yard punts in his career. Now Jack Fox has done it in just six games, adding another 67 yards in Atlanta. That punt went so far that the Lions cover guys bought returner Brandon Powell by faking the right catch signal and had no idea the ball would bounce near the goal line. The ball leapt towards the end for a touchdown, which is a shame considering the quality of a punt. Fox averaged 59 yards on three attempts for the day, which, yes, is pretty good.
–Don Muhlbach played his 250th career game, placing him tied with Eddie Murray (yes, that Eddie Murray) for 47th on the NFL’s all-time roster.
– Atlanta allowed a small, socially distant crowd to watch the game. The reported attendance was 7,796.