RECAP: Despite loss, Lions first-string offense shines in preseason opener

Pride of Detroit

The Detroit Lions first-team offense has looked good for the first three weeks of training camp, but many began to wonder if that was more of an indictment of Detroit’s defense. In Friday night’s preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions offense took an important step into showing that the progress they’ve made on that side of the ball is real. Jared Goff was essentially perfect in his only drive of the game, leading the Lions to a quick 7-0 lead five minutes into the game.

But the Lions defense also confirmed some of the concerns on that side of the ball, as Marcus Mariota quickly countered with a rushing attack that gashed Detroit’s starters.

The game eventually settled down as both teams rested their starters after just one possession on each side of the ball. The teams traded blows back and forth, but it was the Falcons who walked away winners thanks to a late David Blough fumble and a big fourth-down pick by Atlanta’s offense.

Here’s a drive-by-drive breakdown of the Lions’ preseason opener

First quarter

The Lions won the kickoff and elected to receive. The drive got off to a good start when Jared Goff found Brock Wright—in for T.J. Hockenson—for an 18-yard gain on the second play of the game. First down pickups from Jamaal Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown moved Detroit into field goal position. Then a nice floater to St. Brown got the Lions to the 9-yard line, and D’Andre Swift punched it on first-and-goal by reversing course on this impressive run. 7-0 Lions. In total, the Lions went 79 yards in just over five minutes.

It didn’t take long for rookie Aidan Hutchinson to make his impact felt. First, he laid a hit on quarterback Marcus Mariota on the first defensive play. And then on the second, he did this:

But the Falcons’ running game proved to be trouble for the Lions’ first-team defense. Atlanta rushed for 61 yards on 10 carries (6.1 YPC) on the opening drive, which was capped by a Mariota 6-yard touchdown run. 7-7 tie.

Second quarter

That was it for the first-team offense, as Tim Boyle and the second-string offense (across the board) took the field for Detroit’s second offensive drive of the game. The drop off was significantly noticeable, as the offense immediately picked up three penalties—two holdings and a false start. But on a free third-and-long play, Boyle uncorked a beautiful ball to Kalif Raymond for a 45-yard explosive gain.

The Lions only could muster eight more yards, however, settling for a 46-yard field goal attempt. Austin Seibert knocked it straight through the uprights for a 10-7 Lions lead.

The Falcons, too, countered with their second-team offense, led by rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder. Detroit’s second-string defense fared a little better, as linebacker Derrick Barnes notched this tackle for loss, setting up an eventual third-and-7 for the Falcons.

Ridder would end up overthrowing his receiver, leading to the game’s first punt.

On the next drive, while backed up on his own 10-yard line, Boyle misfired on a couple of passes, leading to a quick three-and-out by the Lions offense. The Falcons would take the ball back on their own 45-yard line.

The Lions looked to have gotten the first turnover of the game when Bobby Price stepped in front of a Ridder pass, but a roughing the passer penalty on Jarrad Davis negated the play and put the Falcons in field goal range.

Here’s a closer look at the penalty:

Broken coverage from the Lions’ secondary allowed a big 20-yard pass to Geronimo Allison, and Ridder capped the drive on the next play with a play-action pass for the score. 14-10 Falcons.

The Lions’ offense started to come back to life, with Boyle connecting with Garrett Griffin for 11 yards and Trinity Benson for another 24. Then on a third-and-10 he hit Tom Kennedy in stride for a 10-yard gain plus a facemask penalty tacked on, leading to a first-and-goal for the Lions inside the two-minute warning.

A defensive illegal hands to the face penalty extended the drive after Boyle was sacked, and two plays later Boyle threw a successful fade route to tight end Devin Funchess. 17-14 Lions.

With just 47 seconds left, the Falcons tried to operate their late-half offense with just a single timeout. Ridder opened the drive with a 20-yard scramble and ran for another 19 a few plays later. Atlanta would attempt a 47-yard field goal and successfully tie the game as time expired in the first half. 17-17 tie.

Third quarter

The Falcons were able to push the ball to midfield, but pressures from Jarrad Davis and Austin Bryant forced Atlanta to punt the ball away, pinning Detroit at their own 8-yard line, with Boyle still in at quarterback.

The Lions were able to get out of the shadow of their own end zone, but on a third-and-7, Boyle tried to squeeze a ball to Kalil Pimpleton, only to be intercepted by Falcons cornerback Dee Alford.

Detroit’s defense held strong, though, holding the Falcons to three. 20-17 Falcons.

David Blough and the Lions’ third-team offense took over on the next drive. On the first play, Blough scrambled around the pocket and found a wide-open Tom Kennedy for 26 yards. Then picked up 8 with his feet after this nice pump fake:

The Lions got into the red zone, but couldn’t convert on three downs inside the 5-yard line. Riley Patterson knocked through a 27-yard field goal to tie the game back up. 20-20.

Fourth quarter

The Lions defense got off to a good start in the final stanza with back-to-back pass breakups by Josh Woods and Cedric Boswell, giving the ball back to Blough.

A nice third-down pickup from Funchess kept the drive alive early, and a hurdle from the former Wolverine got the crowd going:

Detroit would pick up back-to-back fourth-down conversions to move into the red zone. First, Blough picked it up with his feet on a play-action bootleg on fourth-and-inches. Then Kalil Pimpleton picked up 7 yards on a fourth-and-3. But the Lions failed to punch it in and settled for a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 5:57 remaining. 23-20 Lions.

John Cominsky made a couple nice plays for the Lions defense, including a run stuff on third-and-2 to force a quick three-and-out for the Falcons offense.

Kennedy picked up another key first down on the ensuing drive on a third-and-9 to prevent a quick punt and allow the Lions to burn more time off the clock. But just as the Lions looked like they were going to be able to run out the clock, Blough fumbled a shotgun snap, giving the ball back to the Falcons on Detroit’s 33-yard line with exactly 2:00 remaining.

Cornerback Chase Lucas nearly ended the game with a pick right in his lap, but the rookie dropped it. Lucas made up for it on the next play with a nice open field tackle, forcing a fourth-and-9 for Atlanta. But the Falcons threw up a prayer on the play, and Jared Bernhardt boxed out Boswell for the touchdown grab and a 27-23 Falcons lead with 1:30 left.

With 1:35 on the clock and one timeout, Blough had to go 75 yards for the game-winning score. Unfortunately, the Lions could only get to midfield, and Blough’s hail mary attempt failed, ending the game with a score of 27-23 Falcons.

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