| The Detroit News
Glendale, Ariz. — For the past week, the Lions had the world shoveling dirt on their grave. It turns out they were declared dead prematurely.
Rediscovering their pulse, and the ability to play defense, the Lions secured a 26-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
The Lions intercepted three passes in the victory — the first time they’ve had more than one in a game during Matt Patricia’s tenure as coach — and overcame the self-inflicted wounds that so often do them in to persevere on the road.
“Coming into the game, for me personally, I was tired of being disrespected by everyone,” rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah said. “I think the whole defense was tired of being disrespected, the whole team was tired of being disrespected. So this was a game we took personal. We knew we had to get back on track in the win column and going against this offense was a great opportunity to show the work that we put in this week.”
Lions kicker Matt Prater banged home a 39-yard field goal in the final seconds to secure the victory and snap Detroit’s 11-game losing streak that spanned over two seasons. The win moves Detroit to 1-2 on the season. The Cardinals fall to 2-1 with the loss.
“I expect to make it, but I honestly don’t know what happens to me after a game-winner because everybody goes so crazy. I kind of black out,” Prater said. “I usually say a bunch a things, I don’t even know what I’m saying, headbutt Jack (Fox) and (Don Muhlbach) and celebrate with everybody. It’s fun.”
The hard-fought victory was a back-and-forth struggle from the start.
For the third time in as many weeks, the Lions grabbed an early lead. Thanks to a couple of missed tackles by the Cardinals secondary, the Lions netted 45 yards on the game’s first two plays before being forced to settle for a 37-yard Prater field goal.
The score stayed 3-0 until late in the first quarter. After the Lions failed to capitalize on an interception by safety Duron Harmon, the Cardinals drove 80 yards on nine plays to take the lead.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was sharp on the possession, completing all six of his throws for 61 yards. Lions cornerback Darryl Roberts drew a pass interference in the red zone and was subsequently beat to the back corner of the end zone by slot receiver Andy Isabella from 13 yards out for the touchdown.
While the Lions offense continued to sputter, the defense provided another pick-me-up with their second turnover of the afternoon. Jamie Collins, who pressured Murray into the earlier interception, undercut a throw to Larry Fitzgerald for the linebacker’s first pick of the season.
It marked the seventh consecutive season Collins has recorded at least one interception.
Taking advantage of a gift that set them up at the Cardinals’ 27-yard line, the Lions handed the ball to running back Adrian Peterson four straight times, gaining 21 yards. After wide receiver Kenny Golladay was stopped just short of the sticks on third down, the Lions opted to go for it on fourth. Running a well-executed pick play, tight end Jesse James came wide open for a 5-yard touchdown grab, his first in two seasons with the Lions.
Detroit’s 10-7 lead proved short-lived as Murray pieced together another perfect series, completing all four of his throws for 55 yards. He capped the series by rushing for a touchdow and badly juking Okudah before skirting across the goal line. Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez missed the extra point, leaving it 13-10.
Undeterred, the Lions managed to counter before the half. Taking over with 1:53 remaining, quarterback Matthew Stafford put together his own pristine series, going 5-for-5 for 75 yards. The fifth pass, a high ball to Golladay, who was making his season debut, from 15 yards out put the Lions up 17-13 at the half.
“It was really just me and (Stafford) being on the same page,” Golladay said. “Once I bent inside of the safety, I gave eyes right away and Staff just put a good ball, top shelf, for me to go get.”
Coming out of the locker room, the Cardinals quickly cut their deficit to one behind a 54-yard Gonzalez field goal.
After going three-and-out the ensuing possession, the Lions got another huge play from their much-maligned defense. After struggling through his first six quarters as a pro, Okudah came up with a diving interception on a Murray pass intended for three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, returning it 36 yards to the Cardinals’ 22.
“It was weird because it was kind of like an interception I had against Nebraska in college where the quarterback was scrambling to the right, throwing across his body and you have to put your head down and keep grinding and catch the ones that are thrown to you,” Okudah said.
Back-to-back carries for Kerryon Johnson, his first touches of the day, went for 13 yards, thrusting the Lions into the red zone before the offense stalled out. The team settled for a 24-yard Prater field goal and a 20-16 edge with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Cardinals worked their way back on top heading into the fourth frame. Maximizing his dual-threat skill set, Murray steered the Cardinals 75 yards in 11 plays. Running twice for 18 yards and connecting on five of his six throws, he found Isabella for his second touchdown of the afternoon. The 4-yard reception put the Cardinals ahead, 23-20, with a quarter to play.
The Lions looked primed to respond after Stafford found Golladay for 19 yards on third down and T.J. Hockenson for 27 yards across midfield on the next snap. But two unforced errors — an unblocked sack and an illegal shift penalty — knocked the Lions out of field-goal range and led to a punt, which punter Jack Fox buried at the 2-yard line, keeping Detroit’s hope afloat.
“Honestly we probably should have scored 40 there,” Stafford said. “They gave us some great opportunities and we weren’t able to capitalize in the red zone, which is something we need to make sure we work on and make sure we’re better at next week.”
Again, the Lions defense rose to the challenge, forcing a three-and-out after defensive end Romeo Okwara nearly tackled Murray in the end zone for a safety on third down. A 19-yard punt return by Jamal Agnew gave the offense the ball back at the 36-yard line.
With the short field, the Lions worked down to the 8-yard line, but were unable to finish in the end zone once again. A sack on third down led to another short Prater field goal, this time from 35 yards out, tying the game at 23 with 6:44 remaining.
The Cardinals were able to move the ball to midfield on their ensuing possession, but were forced to punt after the Lions defense clamped down. There would be no short field this time as the punt was down at the 9-yard line.
That set the Lions up for the game-winning drive. Despite having a long pass to Marvin Hall at the goal line wiped off the board by a holding penalty, the Lions were still able to work into range for Prater to seal the victory.
“You have to force yourself to think it,” Stafford said about the holding penalty. “I have to be honest, if I sat there and worried about that last one, maybe I do something dumb on the next play.”
The Lions return home to play the New Orleans Saints next Sunday before heading into their bye.