Jared Goff unlocked the secret of Detroit Lions fans’ love: Play hurt, and play well

Detroit Free Press

Jared Goff rolled on the field in pain.

And then he limped to the sideline.

The Detroit Lions quarterback was banged up when Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Jordan Phillips hit him, incurring a roughing the passer penalty.

But Goff sat out only one play. He returned to the field to a loud, rousing cheer. This is how you get Lions fans to love you. Play hurt and show toughness. But more than anything, throw touchdown passes and lead your team to wins.

Four plays later, Goff hit Josh Reynolds for a beautiful, 22-yard touchdown.

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“I definitely heard them (cheer) but it was it was more important to finish it off with a score and to get the touchdown to Josh — a great catch ,” Goff said after the Lions’ stunning 30-12 victory.

Goff finished with a 139.7 passer rating — his highest of the season.

“Listen, man, he made some outstanding throws today,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “The one to Reynolds, right before halftime, huge play. But he got us in the right play. I thought he maneuvered well, he took some hits. He bounced back. I thought he played outstanding.”

It started with some outstanding play calls.

Since Campbell took over play-calling duties against the Pittsburgh Steelers, six games ago, the Lions have two wins, a tie and two heartbreakers, losing by three points to the Cleveland Browns and two points to the Chicago Bears.

Yes, they got crushed by the Denver Broncos during that stretch.

But the positives are starting to add up, with ever more encouraging signs. And it all starts with Campbell’s play-calling and Goff’s throwing and decision-making.

“I thought Jared (Goff) was tremendous and they had a good plan,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “They played better, coached better, had a bigger sense of urgency from the start. We just weren’t good enough in any area. Got to give them credit, they came out and played really hard and played well.”

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In his past five games, Goff has nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

“It’s practice habits,” Goff said. “It’s game plan. It’s who is getting involved in the game plan.”

It was easily the best win of the Campbell era.

OK, so it was only his second win. But considering the Lions were playing one of the best teams in the NFL and had multiple missing players, this was stunning.

“Obviously, we didn’t come prepared at all,” said Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, bottled up and made uncomfortable by the Lions. “No energy, no juice. We just didn’t, like I said, didn’t execute. We didn’t come prepared. We’ve got to be better throughout the week next week. We’ve got a great Indianapolis team coming in. They’re not going to feel sorry for us on Christmas. So, we’ve got to lock in and be better.

This would have been an impressive performance if the Lions were fully healthy. But they didn’t. They were playing with a backups across the field.

Which makes this?

Unbelievable, as well as encouraging.

They played without running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, tight end T.J. Hockenson, receiver Quintez Cephus and offensive linemen Frank Ragnow and Jonah Jackson.

But it didn’t matter.

Because the offense countered with creativity.

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Goff threw a 37-yard touchdown to Amon-Ra St. Brown, on a play that was installed this week. St. Brown acted like he was blocking, rolled across the offensive line and then went out for a pass. Only there was a problem. He should have blocked for a split second longer, as he left Goff under incredible pressure.

No worries. Goff delivered a strike.

Yes, that’s how you get the fans to love you.

“My gosh, man, the first one to St. Brown was unbelievable,” Campbell said. “Just how he had to step up, release it quick. I mean, that’s a heck of a play.”

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Then, there was Goff’s touchdown pass to Jason Cabinda.

Yes, he hit a guy known more for special teams than his offensive contributions. Didn’t see that one coming. “Had to throw him a bone,” Campbell said.

They weren’t just beating the Cardinals. They were kicking their butts.

We are starting to see the plan come together. Play tough defense. Get pressure on the quarterback — sometimes off the edge, sometimes up the middle with a safety blitz. Be tough in the red zone. Run the ball behind a fantastic offensive line. And hit the play-action passes.

“We executed the game plan perfectly,” Campbell said. “It was a great job by our coaches putting it together and then obviously just those players stepping up and just not — they don’t care. Like, they don’t care. They don’t care who we’re playing. It’s like, ‘Let’s go.’ They’re ready to go, they believe, they have. Shoot, man, that’s all you can ask for as your players as a coach. Just guys who want to come back, go to work and they don’t give a crap who we’re playing. So I was proud of them.”

Some of the credit for the Lions improved offense can also be traced back to the addition of Reynolds, who played with Goff in Los Angeles in 2020, with 52 receptions for 618 yards.

He caught six passes for 68 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.

“We’re just making plays, man,” Reynolds said. “That’s all it’s about, you know, it’s making plays.”

You know who else is making plays? You know who seems to be growing before our eyes?

St. Brown.

“Like I said, he’s growing,” Reynolds said. “He’s doing a great job, man, he’s growing into a great receiver, and I’m proud of him.”

This game was encouraging. It’s clear this organization is on the right track with Campbell in charge. Because he’s coming up with plans that make sense. And he has these guys playing tough.

“Throw caution to the wind,” Campbell said. “That’s one of those you either win, or you lose by 50. Fortunately, it worked in our favor, but we knew we needed to be aggressive.”

Yes, they did.

It was fun to watch.

Starting with the quarterback.

The guy who is showing toughness and improved decision making. He sure looks a lot better when he’s throwing to receivers he trusts and running plays he likes.

Yes, he heard cheers on Sunday afternoon.

And he deserved all of them.

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Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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