Wojo: Lions deliver stunning thumper, maybe a glimpse of their future

Detroit News

Detroit  It was all there, in one tidy unexpected package. Everything the Lions aspire to be was on display, and at least for one afternoon, it didn’t matter if it was a harbinger or the effects of a holiday binger by the Cardinals.

The Lions dominated what was the top-seeded team in the NFC. They did it with pugnacious, physical intent, stomping Arizona 30-12 Sunday in a performance that ranks among the most improbable in recent Lions history. They ran the ball with authority. They played defense with disciplined aggression, harassing Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray into complete disarray.

“Throw caution to the wind — that’s one of those you either win or you lose by 50,” Dan Campbell said. “Fortunately it worked in our favor, but we knew we needed to be aggressive. You know you can’t go timid against these guys. You have to force them to play your game.”

Whoa, where did this come from? More important, where is this headed?

Go ahead and say it doesn’t matter, not in the grand scheme. Feel free to say the victory was definitive, but also detrimental. Point out the Lions’ draft position dropped, and they’re currently in the No. 2 slot, a half-game behind Jacksonville.

More: Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: In pulling upset, Detroit passes this test with flying colors

Just don’t say it to Campbell, whose team was fully rewarded for remaining fully engaged late in a rough season. Don’t say it to Jared Goff, who has withstood the hits admirably, and just delivered his best game of the year. Don’t say it to the Lions’ defense, which churned more players from the practice squad to the bench to the field, and shut down one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.

This was as shocking a rout as you could conjure up, with the Cardinals coming in at 10-3 (7-0 on the road), battling the Rams for first place in the NFC West. Surely they didn’t expect to see these Lions (2-11-1), and maybe that partly explains their scattered effort.

But there’s another explanation that can’t be ignored. Campbell’s message of toughness, perseverance and ground-game grit, oft-repeated after excruciating losses, seems to be taking root. This was the actual identity in living, winning form. The offensive line is the spine of the team, and despite shuffling players due to injury, the power was obvious. It paved the way for another former practice-squad guy, Craig Reynolds, to run for 112 yards, and protected Goff well enough for him grow more confident by the throw.

With Taylor Decker back at left tackle and rookie Penei Sewell instantly impactful at right tackle, the Lions believe they can run on anyone, and they’re determined to prove it.

“There were plays today where it seemed like there were nine guys in the box, and we’re going to try and run it anyway,” Decker said. “So yeah, it’s been fun to see, and we’ve got a really good group.”

Since returning from an oblique muscle injury, which coincided with Campbell taking over play-calling, Goff has looked much more comfortable. It helps that he has increasingly productive weapons. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown caught eight more passes — 26 the past three games — and Josh Reynolds has provided a huge boost. Without D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams or T.J. Hockenson, Goff is adjusting every game.

In this one, he was 21-for-26 for 216 yards and three touchdowns. In the past four games, he has nine touchdown passes and two interceptions. Through the brutal 0-8 start, Goff bore the brunt, as the Lions lost receivers and linemen and struggled to find anything that worked offensively.

Goff was left to dump short passes and hope for a break. When he was asked recently what he’s learned about himself this season, he said, “I’m tougher than I thought.”

We’re learning the same thing about him, his head coach and a batch of young guys.

“Today is the fun part about it, but you have to fight through some of those dark times to get there,” Goff said. “A lot of the ideas and practice habits that we’ve developed over the last handful of weeks, I hope you guys have seen it’s different. It should be a little bit crisper. It should be a little bit sharper.”

This was the day the words turned into impressive action, and the smallish crowd of 45,211 was loud in its appreciation. Goff endured three roughing-the-passer penalties and departed for one play after getting clobbered. When he jogged back in, he was greeted by a relatively unusual sound — huge cheers. Moments later, he fired a perfect 22-yard TD strike to Josh Reynolds to cap a 97-yard drive and give the Lions a 17-0 halftime lead.

If the Lions are to take form under Campbell, this is what it’ll take. Oh, it’ll also take an influx of talent, which is why many fans (and media) focus on the Lions’ draft standing. If they pick second instead of first, they might not have a shot at Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. But who knows, they might prefer Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. And don’t forget, they have the Rams’ first-round pick, which might drop lower because the Cardinals’ loss nudges the Rams closer to a division title that could, aw hell, why fret about it now.

Soon, all the focus will shift to GM Brad Holmes. And hey, maybe the Jaguars (2-12) win another game now that they’re unburdened by Urban Meyer, and they play the lowly Jets next. The Lions might win again too, with trips to Atlanta and Seattle and a home finale against the Packers.

More: ‘Stud’ Amon-Ra St. Brown showing Lions skills beyond years, projections

There will be ample chance to learn about draft prospects. The mission now is to learn about who’s here, and what Campbell and his staff can develop. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn had a brilliant game plan, attacking Murray with precision blitzes that kept him from scooting outside. (He rushed for 3 yards). Charles Harris, a former first-round pick of the Dolphins, was spectacular, leading the team with 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Similar revelations have popped up all over the defense, with secondary guys such as A.J. Parker, C.J. Moore and someone named Brady Breeze (don’t tell me you’d heard of him) contributing in this one. Will Harris also made a smooth move from safety to cornerback.

Amani Oruwariye is looking more and more like a star and collected his sixth interception of the season. It came almost immediately after Godwin Igwebuike lost a fumble, and it was a masterpiece because of his dive and the timing.

You know who really noticed? The guy who threw the ball and was flummoxed all day by the Lions’ defense.

“Yeah man, Aaron Glenn, he’s a great DC,” Murray said. “They played hard, it was a physical game. I wish we knew it was going to be. I don’t know what happened today. We just didn’t come ready to play.”

It’s understandable if Murray didn’t know how it was going to be. Many opponents have gotten a taste of the Lions’ tenacity and found a way to brush if off. Outside of the 38-10 stinker in Denver last week, the Lions’ previous four games were decided by a total of seven points.

Narrow margins are still huge gaps in the NFL and getting close doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting closer. The Lions know it as well as anyone. They’re still not close to what they hope to be, but in one stirring performance, they showed they have an idea how to get there.


Twitter: bobwojnowski

Articles You May Like

Lions injury update: Amon-Ra St. Brown returns to practice
Week 3 winners: Patrick Mahomes looks like himself, Dolphins RBs make history
Jameson Williams can re-join team next week, still can’t practice
Lions vs. Falcons: How to watch, listen, stream the Week 3 matchup
Week 3 NFC North predictions: Vikings earn first win, Bears’ woes continue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *