Inglewood, Calif. — The Detroit Lions pulled out all the stops, successfully executing a surprise onside kick and two fake punts, but it still wasn’t enough to topple the heavily favored Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
In Matthew Stafford’s first game against his former team, the quarterback threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns, including the 300th of his career, as the Rams squeaked by the Lions, 28-19.
“It’s frustrating, you know?” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “We felt like we could gain an advantage there and see if we could get some possessions back and they helped, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough. That’s too good of a football team. You’re not allowed to make one or two errors against a football team like that. That’s what’s tough.”
The Lions did manage to shake their season-long scoring struggles in the first half, starting with D’Andre Swift taking a screen pass 63 yards for an opening-drive touchdown. On the third-and-9 play, Swift picked up key blocks from guard Jonah Jackson and wide receiver Geronimo Allison, springing him into the open field.
“It was a great play, a great tone-setter,” Swift said. “Great play call right into the blitz and Jonah did a great job getting on his block.”
Detroit immediately came back with an onside kick, catching the Rams off-guard as the ball ricocheted off linebacker Troy Reeder’s hands on the bounce and was recovered by Lions safety Tracy Walker.
Then, when the drive appeared to quickly stall, punter and former high school quarterback Jack Fox surprised the Rams with a pass to gunner Bobby Price for the fourth-down conversion. That led to a 37-yard Austin Seibert field goal and a quick 10-0 lead for the Lions.
“We felt like the time was right,” Campbell said. “Look, (special teams coordinator) Dave Fipp did a helluva job. We talked about it all week and those guys executed the plan perfectly all week. We had a lot of faith in those guys on special teams.”
The Rams responded with three points of their own after Stafford found top target Cooper Kupp for a 29-yard gain near the left sideline. Lions safety Will Harris did limit the damage to the field goal by bumping running back Darrell Henderson off his route on a Stafford pass into the end zone on third down.
Detroit extended its advantage back to double digits with a nice series to start the ensuing possession. Tight end T.J. Hockenson gained 21 yards to open the drive, followed by a pair of runs by Jamaal Williams that added 17 more.
The Lions eventually lined up to go for it on fourth down deep in Rams territory, but after failing to draw the defense offside, settled for a 47-yard Seibert field goal, extending the lead to 13-3 early in the second quarter.
Aided by a questionable pass interference penalty against undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs on third down, Stafford connected with receiver Van Jefferson for a 11-yard touchdown over the coverage of Jacobs to quickly draw the Rams within three.
After forcing the Lions to punt, the Rams managed to take their first lead of the game behind a couple of explosive passing plays. Kupp got free for a 27-yard gain running a corner pattern against rookie cornerback AJ Parker before Robert Woods picked up 22 more on a crosser that beat Detroit’s third-down blitz.
Again facing a third down at the shadow of the goal line, Stafford found Kupp on a 2-yard slant with 1:23 remaining in the half for the 300th touchdown of his career, drawing him even with John Elway for 12th on the all-time list.
The Lions managed to get back three points before the half when quarterback Jared Goff connected with receiver Kalif Raymond three times for 49 yards during the two-minute drive, setting up a 41-yard Seibert field goal that left the Lions down one, 17-16, at the break.
“Kalif’s a perfect example of the guys in that locker room that fight,” Goff said. “He fights. He’s where he needs to be. He’s on time. He’s reliable and he’s going to get the ball because of that.
“…I love getting him the ball as much as I can and I’m starting to build a rapport with him.”
To open the second half, the Lions finally managed to force their first punt when outside linebacker Julian Okwara sacked Stafford on third down. But with a chance to retake the lead, the Lions were stuffed on back-to-back runs on third and fourth down while needing just a yard, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Campbell took the blame for an execution error on fourth down, noting rookie tight end Brock Wright was not in proper position before the snap to effectively make his block. But Swift wouldn’t except the shifting of blame away from himself.
“They trusted me and put the ball in my hands to go get the first down; I’m not going to put that on anybody else,” he said.
Detroit’s defense returned the favor, stuffing the Rams on a third-and-1 carry just across midfield. And on fourth down, Stafford’s play-action rollout pass was broken up by Okwara.
With new life, Detroit regained the lead following a 37-yard catch-and-run by Raymond, which set up Seibert’s fourth field goal of the afternoon, this one from 31 yards out. The Lions had a chance to do more damage, but Goff missed an open Swift on third down before the kick.
The Lions’ edge proved short lived. On third-and-12, Stafford looked off deep safety Walker and delivered a deep pass to Kupp for a 59-yard gain down to Detroit’s 19-yard line.
Four plays later, Stafford hit Kupp for a 5-yard, go-ahead touchdown, pushing the quarterback past Elway on the all-time list. A two-point conversion end-around run by Woods made it 25-19 with 13:59 remaining in the contest.
Kupp finished with 10 receptions for 156 yards and the two touchdowns.
The Lions looked to respond, working the ball to midfield with a pair of short third-down conversions, but found themselves in a hole after guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai flagged for holding on first down.
On third-and-11, Detroit opted to run a draw to Swift, who picked up a pair of blocks from rookie left tackle Penei Sewell and receiver KhaDarel Hodge before surprisingly weaving his way to the conversion.
Detroit continued to pound the ball on the ground, with four straight runs for 28 yards into the red zone, but after Williams was stuffed for no gain, the Lions looked to pass to keep the drive alive.
That’s when the Rams best defensive players, All-Pros Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, stepped up in the biggest moment. Donald broke through the offensive line hurrying Goff to target Hockenson in heavy traffic only to see Ramsey step in front of the pass for the interception at the goal line, squashing Detroit’s scoring threat.
“(Donald) was right in Jared’s face immediately,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Won right off the snap. Any time you get that internal pressure on a quarterback, that’s always much more difficult. And then (for Ramsey) to have the ball skills to slice underneath that, make that play. I just told him, I said, ‘I thought you were going to take that all the way back.’
“He’s a stud,” McVay said. “And you talk about big time players stepping up in a moment. We had to have it from our defense and those guys delivered in a big way. And that’s why Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are who they are.”
Two first downs by the Rams, including another third-down conversion on an 18-yard completion from Stafford to Woods milked much of the remaining time off the clock before Matt Gay converted a 47-yard field goal to seal the victory.
Goff, in his return to Los Angeles, finished 22 of 35 for 268 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions after getting picked again on the final, meaningless possession.
With the victory, the Rams moved to 6-1 on the season, while coach Sean McVay improved to 40-0 during his coaching career when his team has led at the half. The Lions remain winless on the year, falling to 0-7.