‘Step in the right direction’: Lions start fast, hold off Commanders

Detroit News

Detroit — Despite limping into the contest, the Detroit Lions played a near-perfect first half on Sunday at Ford Field, jumping out to a three-touchdown lead in the team’s Week 2 matchup with the Washington Commanders.

But things are never easy for the Lions, as the team had to fend off a furious second-half rally by the Commanders, only securing the 36-27 because of a missed extra point in the closing minutes.

“It feels good to win because there’s a lot of hard work that’s put in it across the board,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I think the best thing about it is our guys, they trust in the system, they believe in what we’re doing as coaches and the schemes, and they believe in how we’re setting them up for success, and they believe in the plan and they execute the plan.

“That’s a credit to those guys,” Campbell said. “They never gave up. They never lost hope and they won’t ever. That’s how we assembled this team, so they know what we’re capable of. It’s a step in the right direction, but that’s one.”

It took the Lions’ offense a minute to find its footing, quickly coughing up the opening possession after a pair of blunders by the team’s makeshift offensive line, which was without three starters. But a relentless defense provided ample opportunity to get things right throughout the first half.

BOX SCORE: Lions 36, Commanders 27

After going a perfect four-for-four on red-zone opportunities in the season opener a week earlier, the Lions (1-1) faltered on back-to-back trips inside the 20 during the opening quarter. They settled for a 35-yard Austin Seibert field goal on the first, before turning it over on downs on the second when quarterback Jared Goff missed his intended target on both third and fourth down. That wasted a 50-yard run by D’Andre Swift.

But Detroit’s three-point advantage held up as the defense forced a second three-and-out before delivering a safety to extend the early advantage to five. Defensive end Charles Harris came up with the hit that dislodged the ball from Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz, which trickled out the back of the end zone.

On the ensuing free kick, return man Kalif Raymond brought it back 52 yards, setting the offense up with a short field. This time, the Lions capitalized. Under heavy pressure on third down, Goff rolled to his right and lofted a ball to Amon-Ra St. Brown, who went up over cornerback William Jackson III to make the 13-yard scoring grab.

The catch marked the sixth consecutive game St. Brown has caught a touchdown, tying the franchise record.

Meanwhile, the defense stayed relentless, preventing Washington (1-1) from picking up a first down for the fourth straight possession as rookie Aidan Hutchinson tallied his second of three first-half sacks.

“I thought the defense set the tone for that game, which we felt was going to be critical this week,” Campbell said.

The offense nearly put another six on the board on the opening play of the second quarter, but Goff, after taking a pass back following a handoff to running back Craig Reynolds, came up short on a deep throw to DJ Chark that was knocked away by Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller. Still, the Lions were able to come away with three on a 48-yard Seibert field goal to go up 15-0.

That lead grew to 22 before the end of the half when the Lions went on a balanced and efficient nine-play drive, where the offense never faced a third down. Goff completed all five of his throws during the series, capped by a 3-yard strike to Josh Reynolds in the back of the end zone.

Impressed by the team’s thorough dominance of the opening half, the Ford Field crowd gave the Lions a standing ovation as they headed to the locker room after the break.

But the good vibes were quickly quelled.

Washington managed to snap the shutout coming out of the break with a quick-strike scouring drive. Kickstarted by a quality kickoff return, Wentz connected with rookie Jahan Dotson for a 40-yard gain down to Detroit’s 20-yard line. Three plays later, the quarterback found Curtis Samuel on a wheel route, beating the coverage mismatch of Charles Harris for a 15-yard touchdown.

Detroit’s offense meanwhile went into a brief hibernation, punting on consecutive possessions and spoiling an interception by Will Harris on a deflected overthrow by Wentz, intended for tight end Logan Thomas.

Pinned at their own 6-yard line following the second punt, Wentz settled into a grove, connecting on throws of 9, 35 and 27 yards before hitting Thomas across the middle for a 20-yard score. With a two-point conversion from Wentz to Dotson, Detroit’s 22-point lead was suddenly down to a touchdown.

The third-quarter bleeding was slowed by Detroit’s two biggest playmakers, Swift and St. Brown. The receiver opened the possession with a 58-yard gain on an end-around. And with the drive on the verge of stalling, Swift caught a dump-off pass on third-and-long while stumbling, fell down, but managed to get back on his feet and evade multiple defenders for an improbable 22-yard touchdown that put the Lions up, 29-15, following the extra point.

“That’s what he can do, man,” Goff said. “It’s really crazy. …I know (offensive coordinator) Ben (Johnson) wants to get the ball in his hands as many times as possible. And that’s something that we were always focused on and I’m always aware of too, is if he’s in the game and down the field isn’t open, how fast can I get him the ball in space and let him work? He’s a special player.”

Detroit’s defense had a chance to drive a nail in Washington’s coffin when the opposition opened the fourth quarter going for fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory, but couldn’t prevent receiver Terry McLaurin from getting the corner on an end-around similar to St. Brown’s from the previous drive.

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That sparked a lengthy drive, which Washington running back Antonio Gibson polished off with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 10:44 remaining. Curiously, down eight, Washington went for two and failed to convert after Wentz was pressured and intercepted by cornerback Bobby Price in the end zone.

With plenty of time remaining, the Lions desperately needed to keep the pressure on the Commanders. They were able to accomplish that with Goff going 4-for-4 for 62 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to St. Brown, the receiver’s second of the game.

On the drive, St. Brown became the first player in NFL history to catch at least eight passes and a touchdown in six consecutive games, while matching Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown for the longest streak of games with eight or more catches at eight.

St. Brown finished the afternoon with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 68 yards rushing. Goff, meanwhile, completed 20-of-34 for 256 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

“He’s as steady as they come,” Campbell said. “I mean, he is as steady as a rock, now. You can always depend on what he is going to bring every day, not just on Sunday, but on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. He’s been that way since he walked in the door as a rookie, and nothing has changed.”

Needing a defensive stop to seal the deal, the Lions couldn’t get it, as the Commanders marched 76 yards on 14 plays. Wentz found Dotson for a short touchdown on third-and-goal and the Commanders looked ready to cut the lead back to a single score with 1:56 remaining, but kicker Joey Syle missed the extra point.

“I wanted us to be the team that forced somebody to make the critical error, and we did that,” Campbell said. “We did that on the extra point. So, however you want to cut it, man, we made the plays that we had to, to win this.”

The Lions recovered the onside kick, essentially ending the game.

The Lions will go on the road to play NFC North rival Minnesota next week.


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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