Jared Goff started Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings looking like a whole new player. It almost looked like he bought a brand-new arm on Black Friday.
Zip! Zing! Fling!
Throw after throw, completion after completion, the Detroit Lions quarterback tossed tight spirals, passed deep and into tight windows, for 25 yards, 24, 23, a touchdown. Then another.
By the time the first half ended Sunday, Goff had completed 13 of 17 passes and staked the Lions to a 20-6 halftime lead.
Was this really happening? Were the winless Lions finally finding a way to win — and win big?
Then the second half started. Suddenly Goff’s big arm turned into a Cyber Monday buy gone wrong, a deal found in the bottom of the bargain bin and purchased without an extended warranty.
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Flump! Plop! Ploop!
Three and out. Three and out again. Interception. Fumble. Goff completed 76% of his passes in the first half and only 50% in the second.
Then he found one last bit of magic when he needed it most.
With four seconds left and the Lions down four points, he threw an 11-yard dart to Amon-Ra St. Brown in the end zone for a touchdown and a victory — the Lions’ first this season — and a celebration Goff called “a pretty cathartic feeling.”
Officially, the attendance for the Lions’ 29-27 victory at Ford Field will go down as 45,691, which is the number of tickets sold. I would guess the actual attendance was closer to 35,000.
But when St. Brown caught that touchdown pass, the roar sounded like it was coming from 70,000 people as the whole team rushed St. Brown in the end zone, and coach Dan Campbell jumped off the sideline and ran around the field hugging his players.
By the time a bounding Campbell, no doubt made lighter by his first victory, found Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on the field and shook hands, it felt more like a white-elephant gift exchange or perhaps a passing of the torch — one that had made Campbell’s seat warm on Thanksgiving and just turned up the flame on Zimmer’s.
“It takes a weight off because we won, period,” Campbell said of his newfound buoyancy. “… And it’s always going to be a load off when you win every week, it doesn’t matter where you’re at.
“But look, we did what we had to do to win the day. We finally found a way. We knew we were going to need to score some points against that offense. We put our defense in some tough spots today and I thought they responded. But ultimately, we made enough plays to win.”
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This will go down as the Lions’ first win during a season in which no one expected much from the start of a rebuild. The Lions have “made enough plays” to win at least two other games this year. Yet, to be totally transparent, if Goff’s pass to St. Brown had been dropped, everything I’m writing in this column would be different. I would be focusing on the mistakes in the second half, and I would have lambasted Goff for failing to deliver on all the promise he showed in the first half.
In his own defense, Goff explained one of the biggest mistakes, a pass on fourth-and-1 with 4:01 left that led to a sack-fumble and set up the Vikings’ go-ahead drive.
“Not ideal on either of them,” Goff said of his two turnovers, “but like I mentioned, you should be able to make mistakes and win games, and that’s for me, our defense, our kicker.
“That’s the sign of a good team, a team that has learned how to win is a team that can make a mistake — can make a crucial mistake throwing that interception — and still find a way to win.”
Yes, it’s a credit to this team that it found a way to win, that the defense did enough to keep the Vikings in check and special teams showed up again and the Jamaal Williams-led run game was effective.
And while I’ve written many times that wins don’t matter as much as progress does this season, this felt like a wasted opportunity to win a game easily and convincingly. Because this was the first game in which we got a glimpse of Goff’s full potential — at least for a half.
So don’t talk to me about how Brad Holmes wants to build up both lines and how games are won in the trenches, because the Lions won this game with an offensive line that featured a third-round left guard, a fifth-round right guard and an undrafted center.
The Lions’ full potential will only be realized by their talented playmakers. Right now, most of that potential rests on Goff’s arm and his ability to use it effectively with the few weapons he has. At this moment, Campbell wants his whole team to learn what it takes to win a game by any means, even if that requires uneven performances that are validated in the final seconds.
“It might take this every game,” he said. “It can take this for the rest of the season. It can take this next year. You may have to win a game like this every freaking time to win.
“But at least you understand what it’s like now. You’ve been in it and you know what you have to do when you’re under pressure and you’ve got to respond.”
I have to disagree with Campbell. I think the Lions have always known what it takes to win and they finally did so only because they continued to put forth the same effort. That’s a testament to players and coaches.
But next year should be different. Because if Goff can find a way to unleash the power and prowess in his arm and the Lions can find a way to give him more weapons, games like this never need to be so close.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.