Niyo: Unlike defense, Lions’ offense continues to put on a show worth watching

Detroit News

Detroit — The Lions’ offense set more records Sunday.

But in the end, they knew the only record that mattered looked worse than it had before.

The league’s high-scoring team is now 1-3 at the quarter pole of the NFL’s regular season. And while head coach Dan Campbell spent most of his postgame press conference searching for answers to explain the debacle that is Detroit’s defense, Jared Goff and his teammates on the offensive side of the ball were left with only one solution.

“We just need to score more points, you know?” the Lions’ veteran quarterback shrugged in the aftermath of Sunday’s ridiculous 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field.

Yeah, we know.

The 45 points were the most ever for the Lions in defeat, either in regulation or overtime. More than the previous high (41) from that infamous Matt Flynn game at Lambeau Field at the end of the 2011 regular season, when another journeyman backup quarterback led Green Bay to a 45-41 shootout win over Matthew Stafford and a playoff-bound Detroit squad. More than the “Music City Mayhem” loss to Tennessee, a 44-41 overtime defeat in 2012 that saw the Lions and Titans combine to score 46 points in the fourth quarter alone.

And not that Lions fans needed any more kicks to the gut this early in a season, but this was the second-highest scoring game in franchise history, behind only that disastrous playoff performance in Philadelphia in 1995.

Yet for Goff, this was actually something he’d seen before, albeit from the other side of the win-loss ledger. Back in 2018 with the Los Angeles Rams, he outdueled Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in one of the wildest games in NFL history, a 54-51 win on Monday Night Football.

Sunday, however, it was the Seahawks’ Geno Smith that got to bask in the moment.

“An old-fashioned shootout,” he laughed after Seattle hit the jackpot with 555 total yards, the fifth-best total in franchise history. “That was fun, man.”

Keeping it moving

That’s a point Lions might argue with, obviously. But with so many points scored Sunday, it’d be easy to lose sight of the one positive here, I suppose. The fact that Detroit is somehow home to the league’s most explosive offense.

Keep in mind, too, the Lions entered this game with a seriously depleted roster on that side of the ball. Already missing both their starting guards, they were without arguably their three best skill-position players in D’Andre Swift (shoulder), Amon-Ra St. Brown (ankle) and DJ Chark (ankle). That trio accounted for nearly 60% of the offensive production in the first three games, and Detroit then lost receiver Quintez Cephus to an ankle injury early in the second half in this one. (The Lions’ offense actually ended Sunday’s game with four players on the field that started the season on their practice squad.)

But facing the league’s 25th-ranked defense, there could be no excuses. And to their credit, Goff & Co. wouldn’t need any Sunday.

More: Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Plenty of praise for offense, failing marks all around on ‘D’

Other than the aforementioned 41-point outings against Green Bay (2011) and Tennessee (2012), the only other times the Lions piled up 500-plus yards in a loss both came in 2012: a Thanksgiving Day loss to Houston best remembered for Jim Schwartz’s challenge flag, and the prime-time loss to Atlanta when Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record.

Sunday, it was T.J. Hockenson trying to fill the Megatron role, breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a game by a tight end with an eight-catch, 179-yard day that also included a career-best two touchdowns.

“Going into the week, I knew that I was going to have to do a lot,” said Hockenson, who entered the game with just 10 catches for 82 yards combined in the first three games. “We have a lot of guys that are hurting, so we knew somebody was going to have to…make sure the ball was moving.”

Mission accomplished there, at least. The ball never stopped moving Sunday. And coupled with another solid day on the ground — Jamaal Williams rushed for 108 yards on 19 carries, including a 51-yard touchdown highlighted by a nasty stiff-arm of Seattle safety Josh Jones — it’s more evidence that this new-look offense under first-year coordinator Ben Johnson is legit. Through the first three games the Lions ranked seventh in the league in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders, and they’re now No. 1 in the NFL in scoring at 35 points per game.

“Yeah, like I said, I think Ben is doing a great job getting us ready every week,” Goff said “There’s really no flinch with who’s in there and who’s not in there. We’ve had a good plan, and we had a good plan today.”

Moment of regret

Still, we know all about best-laid plans and the Lions. And despite another productive day on the scoreboard — including four consecutive touchdown drives of 70-plus yards to end the game — they also were lamenting some costly penalties and two critical turnovers.

Most notably, it was Goff’s interception on the very first play from scrimmage to start the third quarter that left him “kicking myself.” The Lions had scored on the final play of the first half to stay within reach, and having deferred possession to start the game, they had an opportunity to bracket the halftime break with scoring drives.

Instead, though, Goff dropped back for a play-action pass attempt and then waited too long — and too intently, perhaps — to deliver a ball to Hockenson on a crossing route. Rookie safety Tariq Woolen read the play well and jumped the route, then returned the interception 40 yards for what felt like a back-breaking touchdown that put Seattle up 31-15.

“You can’t be that way when you get in this type of game,” Campbell said. “If you make a mistake, it can’t be for seven points.”

Goff said something similar afterward, noting the pick-six “might’ve been the difference.”

“Just bad decision,” he said. “Late (throw), bad decision. Can’t do it. Dumb.”

Still, it’d be downright foolish to suggest this offense is the problem right now. Frankly, it’s the only reason this team is worth watching at the moment, though even that’s probably up for debate among many in the crowd of 63,920 that showed up Sunday at Ford Field.

And for the time being, at least, it’s just about the only hope. If the Lions can’t stop them, “we’ve got to outscore them,” Campbell said.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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