Detroit — A hot start, followed by a long midgame lull, resulted in a deficit too big to overcome for the Detroit Lions in a 38-35 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in front of a sold-out crowd at Ford Field on Sunday.
The Eagles scored on five of six possessions, including four touchdowns, in the second and third quarters to twice build a 17-point lead. Detroit rallied in the fourth, scoring a pair of touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough as the Eagles converted a fourth down with a quarterback sneak to run out the clock for the victory.
“I think about what mistakes did they make — they really didn’t,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “They played well. They executed well. We struggled with their quarterback. (Jalen) Hurts hurt us. He’s a good player, but we’ve got to be able to respond to those things.
“And you know there at the end of that game, we got a chance,” Campbell said. “It’s fourth down to close it out. You get that ball with about a minute left, no timeouts to get in position to win it, you like those odds. I was proud at how we fought our way back, but we got a lot to clean up.”
The Lions made a statement with the game’s opening possession, racking up 77 yards on the ground, buoyed by a 50-yard romp by running back D’Andre Swift. And when it looked like things could be derailed by self-inflicted mistakes in the red zone — a dropped pass followed by back-to-back false start penalties — the offense shrugged it off, setting up goal-to-go from the 5-yard line with a third-down-converting completion to tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Two plays later, running back Jamaal Williams was able to bounce a carry outside for a 1-yard score, giving the Lions a 7-0 advantage.
The defense kept those early positive vibes going, forcing a turnover on downs after the Eagles crossed midfield. Cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye broke up passes on third and fourth down to get the ball back to Detroit’s offense.
But the team fell into an extended rut from there, digging a hole too deep to climb out from before the game’s final whistle.
The offense failed to gain a first down its next three possessions, mustering just seven total yards during that stretch.
“That’s probably what hurt us the most, those three-and-outs there in the middle in the second quarter,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “A lot of mental errors mostly, and stuff that could be cleaned up easily, but stuff that can’t happen on game day. Hopefully we can attribute it to first-game stuff and hopefully next week, stuff like that isn’t happening.”
The defense, meanwhile, gave up two lengthy touchdown drives and the lead.
Hurts scrambled for a third-down conversion early in the team’s second possession before threading a needle between two Lions defenders to convert another into the red zone. Hurts capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal, running untouched around the right side of his offensive line.
Two possessions later, another third-down conversion, this time a 26-yard, play-action throw to wide-open tight end Dallas Goedert, set the Eagles up first-and-goal at the 6. That led to a 1-yard touchdown run for running back Miles Sanders.
The Eagles extended their newfound advantage to 14 a little more than a minute later when defensive tackle Milton Williams beat the block of guard Logan Stenberg, rushing Goff’s throw. The pass was deflected and intercepted by cornerback James Bradberry, who returned it 27 yards to put the Eagles up, 21-7.
“The rush wouldn’t have mattered there,” Goff said, shouldering the blame for the turnover. “It was just a poor decision by me and a little miscommunication there.”
Detroit managed to temporarily slow the bleeding before the end of the half, working into Eagles territory with a 28-yard completion from Goff to Josh Reynolds. Facing a fourth-and-1 coming out of the two-minute warning, the Lions gave the ball to Swift who followed his blocking around the left side for a 7-yard touchdown.
But the Eagles wouldn’t let up, squeezing in a short field goal before the half after Brown beat the coverage of Will Harris for a 54-yard completion. And coming out of the break, the Eagles put together another lengthy scoring series — 10 plays, 82 yards — ending in another short touchdown on the ground, this time a 2-yarder from Kenneth Gainwell.
Facing a three-score deficit, the Lions continued to put up a fight, going on a 14-play touchdown drive. The series was kickstarted by a 16-yard run by Swift on a third-down draw. The offense converted three more third downs on the possession, concluding with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
After failing to recover an onside kick, Philadelphia capitalized to push its lead back to 17. Lions safety Tracy Walker was ejected during the series, drawing a pair of personal fouls after hitting a sliding Hurts and getting into a post-play scrap with Eagles players defending their quarterback.
“I know Tracy got kicked out because of a second penalty, which is unacceptable and he knows that,” Campbell said. “That’s not OK. And that’s not what we’re looking for because that’s how you get beat and those guys know that.”
Following Walker’s ejection, Hurts connected on a screen pass to Goedert over the outstretched arms of linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, allowing the tight end to weave his way to the 1-yard line. From there, a fourth Eagles player, running back Boston Scott, was able to punch in a touchdown in on the ground, making it 38-21.
Continuing the second half offensive explosion, the Lions managed another counterpunch. A 29-yard pass to St. Brown got the ball across midfield, and a 25-yard screen to Swift set the Lions up first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. From there, Williams was able to power it across the goal line for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
With a quick strike to Brown to open the ensuing possession, it looked as if the Eagles were more than ready to respond, but the Lions defense finally stepped up, forcing just the second Eagles punt of the day when defensive end Austin Bryant batted down Hurts’ third-down pass attempt.
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An 18-yard carry by Swift to open Detroit’s drive set a new, single-game high for the running back.
Swift finished the game with 144 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
But the offense squandered that momentum when Reynolds couldn’t handle a deep throw outside his frame and Goff was sacked after having to scoop an errant snap off the turf a play later.
“(The) execution upfront was phenomenal,” Swift said about his individual performance. “Receivers blocking downfield was phenomenal, made my job easy.”
But again the Lions defense responded, forcing a three-and-out for the first time in the game. That gave the ball back to the offense, down 10, with 8:19 remaining.
Twice converting on third down, including a pass interference drawn by Hockenson, set Goff up to connect with DJ Chark on a back-shoulder ball from 22 yards out to cut the Eagles lead to three, 38-35, with 3:56 remaining.
With the comeback in focus, the defense had an opportunity to get a quick stop, bottling up Sanders on a third-and-short carry, but the back was able to squeeze his way out of the backfield traffic jam for a 24-yard gain leading into the two-minute warning.
After the Lions burned their final two timeouts, Hurts converted a fourth-and-1 with a sneak to seal the victory.
The Lions will stay home next week to host the Washington Commanders, who earned an Week 1 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.