| The Detroit News
Detroit — The Detroit Lions required some late-game heroics in a game they should have needed none. After blowing a 21-point, second-half lead, the team got bailed out by a 59-yard field goal from Matt Prater as time expired to escape with a 30-27 victory over the Washington Football Team on Sunday.
“Outstanding execution. I give the players all the credit on the field and then obviously to give us a chance and get Matt Prater out there,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We were waiting for it and it was awesome.”
After Washington tied the game with 16 seconds remaining, the Lions were able to work into field-goal range in large part due to Washington rookie defensive end Chase Young getting flagged for roughing quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“You just tell him, ‘Hey, you have to be aware, just understand that that’s the quarterback,'” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “What they might have gotten away with in college, unfortunately, they’re going to treat these guys a little bit more carefully (in the NFL). It’s one of those things; it’s unfortunate. He’ll learn from it.”
And to think, until late in the third quarter, the Lions appeared to be in complete control of the contest.
Detroit snagged an early lead, transitioning from a game-opening defensive stop into a touchdown drive for the offense.
Washington took the opening kickoff and drove into the red zone, looking to snap their season-long streak of not scoring on an opening possession this season. But Detroit managed to knock them back 24 yards and out of field-goal range the final two plays of the possession, forcing a punt.
From there, D’Andre Swift, making his first start, went to work for the Lions. The rookie gained 32 yards on his first three carries, leading to a 55-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Marvin Hall to open the scoring.
“These corners know that they have a good rush,” Stafford said. “But on that play our guys did a great job with giving me protection. I was able to use my eyes and try to help stop the corner. And then (Hall) got behind them and made a huge play.”
Washington responded with another drive deep into Lions territory, but once again the defense came up with a play to end the threat. Cornerback Justin Coleman was able to get pressure on a third-down blitz, forcing an incompletion. That left Washington to settle for a 38-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal.
The two sides traded punts before Detroit extended its advantage early in the second quarter. This time riding veteran running back Adrian Peterson early in the possession, Stafford capped the series with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.
“It was actually a great check by (Stafford),” Jones said. “We were in a squeeze formation. He checked one thing where I had a vertical, and they ran the perfect defense for that play. It’s not a play that we usually check, but he did it, he had a great feel for it, and I knew right when I released, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I need that. Let me get that.’”
That put the Lions up, 14-3.
Washington blew two opportunities to cut into the lead before the half. First, Hopkins missed a 43-yard field goal on the team’s ensuing possession, then wide receiver Terry McLaurin lost a fumble in Lions territory with a little more than a minute remaining in the second quarter.
That proved to be enough time for the Lions to work into field-goal range, where Prater knocked it home from 53 yards to send the two sides to the locker room with the Lions up two touchdowns.
Coming out of the break, the Lions offense went right back to work, driving 85 yards in 11 plays.
Swift provided the spark via the passing game, extending the drive with a 26-yard gain on a screen pass after Taylor Decker was flagged for a hold. The rookie running back put an exclamation on his day with a 15-yard touchdown catch, making the grab on third down and plowing over cornerback Jimmy Moreland to cross the goal line.
“We kind of had some space plays that I thought were really good and I thought we were able to get Swift in some space and allow him to run,” Patricia said. “I thought he ran really hard. I thought that was a great thing for us to see, just his physicality of what he was doing, breaking some tackles and just very smart and aware of some of the situations that we had.”
Washington managed to keep the game from getting out of hand with a touchdown drive of their own. After sputtering out in the red zone once again, Washington was forced to go for it on fourth-and-13 from Detroit’s 17-yard line.
Quarterback Alex Smith, making his first start in nearly two years after suffering a horrific leg injury, found former Lions tight end Logan Thomas for 15 yards and a first down. On the next play, another former Lion, running back J.D. McKissic punched it in from 2 yards out, making it 24-10 with a little more than a quarter to play.
After forcing Detroit to go three-and-out, Washington managed to get it back to one score with another long touchdown drive. Smith was sensational on the drive, completing all eight of his passes for 76 yards.
“I thought he played a heck of a football game,” Rivera said. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable back there, decision-making is getting quicker. He’s seeing some of the really good decisions, some excellent throws, put the ball where he needed to. It was good to see. It really was.”
Rookie running back Antonio Gibson provided the finishing touches, running it in from 2 yards out, getting Washington within seven with 11:25 remaining.
Again, the Lions had no response, failing to gain a single first down before punting the ball back to Washington.
With the door open to complete the 21-point rally, Smith quickly completed two deep throws for 50 yards. A holding penalty against Lions safety Jayron Kearse set Washington up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line and Gibson managed to get the corner around the left edge to knot the game at 24 with 6:15 left on the clock.
Swift fueled Detroit’s response, gaining 46 yards from scrimmage before the Lions were forced to settle for a 37-yard Prater field goal to put Detroit back on top.
Swift finished his day with 149 yards from scrimmage and the receiving touchdown.
But Washington was able to counter as Smith led the offense into field-goal range, surpassing a career-best for passing yards in a game in the process.
That left the Lions enough time to run four plays.
Stafford connected with receiver Quintez Cephus for 10 yards on the first and nearly followed it up a long completion to the rookie, but Cephus wasn’t able to located the deep ball.
But on that second throw, Young was flagged for hitting Stafford late, moving the ball to the midfield with six seconds remaining. From there, Stafford hit Jones for 9 yards, setting up Prater’s game-winning, season-long effort.
“We’re in the huddle … (Stafford) says, ‘We got this,'” Jones said. “When you literally take it play-by-play, you have the confidence that you can get it done. We showed that today. We don’t want to be in those situations, but hey, we train and we practice for that.
The win moves the Lions to 4-5 on the season, while Washington dropped to 2-7 with the loss. The Lions head back out on the road next week, eyeing a return to .500 when they travel to Carolina to play the Panthers.