Niyo: After giving Jaguars a licking, Lions show they’re clicking in December

Detroit News

Detroit — A half-hour after the Lions had finished a 40-14 thrashing of Jacksonville at Ford Field, Taylor Decker still hadn’t fully realized just how dominant his team had been in a winning effort.

“We didn’t punt?” said Decker, the Lions’ left tackle. “No punts?”

Nope, not a one for the Lions on Sunday, something that hasn’t happened on their home field since 1971, when that field was actually Tiger Stadium.

“That’s pretty good,” Decker said, smiling.

And so is this, for a team that couldn’t seem to shake its losing ways barely a month ago. The calendar has flipped to December now, and for the first time in five years, the Lions aren’t just playing meaningful games. They’re winning them. Handily, even.

Sunday’s demolition job was about as thorough of a beating as you’ll see most weeks in the NFL. Second-year receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown called it “the best game I’ve been a part of as a Lion,” while Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, called it the Jaguars’ most embarrassing loss of the season. And for good reason, in both cases.

The Lions scored on all eight of their offensive possessions Sunday, right up until a final fourth-down stop from Detroit’s defense gave backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld a chance at his first live game action in a Lions’ uniform: two kneel-downs in the victory formation.

The Lions finished the game with a season-high 31 first downs, a 13½-minute edge in time of possession, and their largest margin of victory since a 2018 season finale against Green Bay. This marks the first time Detroit has scored 40 or more points twice in a season since 2013, and Sunday’s win was the fourth in the last five outings for Dan Campbell’s crew, which now fully believes it has turned a corner.

And while the Lions (5-7) still sit two games out of a playoff spot in the NFC, with division-leading Minnesota coming to town next weekend, that sort of talk doesn’t even sound silly anymore.

“For us, it’s one day at a time, one game at a time,” said receiver DJ Chark, who finally is healthy and showed it Sunday with a season-best performance (five catches, 98 yards) to earn a game ball against his former team. “But it just feels good to even have that as a whisper, because you know what this team has been through, what this city has been through. And at the end of the day, we’re just coming out and fighting to prove to ourselves who we really are.”

That’s where this had to start, obviously. They had to make believers out of themselves before they could convince the rest of us.

But after beating Green Bay at home to start November, then winning back-to-back road games — in Chicago and New York — for the first time in two years, there was some hope stirring. And even after a heartbreaking loss on Thanksgiving to a Super Bowl contender in the Buffalo Bills, there was a different sort of disappointment than before.

All of which led Campbell to point to Sunday’s game as something more than just a measuring stick. He wanted his young team to view it as a springboard.

“Because I just feel like this is a game that can catapult us through December,” he said, after they’d bounced around the Jaguars like a bag of kittens. “It was big to win, it was big to come off a loss, and it was big to win that way against a team that’s a lot like us in trying to turn a corner, get everything turned back the other way.”

Something has turned here, all right. And where it leads, only time will tell. The Lions’ odds of making the playoffs are probably about one in 10 right now. But the way this team is playing now, and the way the schedule lays out in front of them — with only one likely playoff team left — anything’s possible, I suppose.

“They just have gone in and they have not lost faith,” Campbell said Sunday, when asked to explain how his team has rallied from that ugly 1-6 start. “They are unbroken, they are unshaken, and they just go to work, man. They believe in the gameplan and they have a lot of confidence right now.”

The feeling’s mutual, though, and that shouldn’t be overlooked, which is one of the points Decker was trying to make in the postgame locker room Sunday. It’s what Goff keeps talking about when he raves about offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s preparation and play-calling. And it’s why defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn kept insisting things would turn for his unit, too, despite little evidence early in the season.

“That’s a powerful drug: belief,” he said last month, and apparently he was right.

“We know our coaches believe in us as players,” Decker said. “You know, Ben was talking about it this week: You can draw up the perfect plays, but you want to put your players in a position to succeed, so it’s players over scheme.”

And now that more of those players are getting healthy in time for this stretch run you can see the confidence starting grow. Rookie Jameson Williams’ NFL debut was really just a brief cameo Sunday, but D’Andre Swift’s 18 touches matched his season-high from the opener against Philadelphia and his spinning, stiff-arm touchdown run in the third quarter put this one completely out of reach.

Couple that with a healthy receiving corps featuring St. Brown, Chark and Josh Reynolds and it’s easy to see why Goff looked so at ease Sunday, both on the field (31-of-41, 340 yards, two TDs) and as he fielded questions at the podium after the game.

“We were joking about it earlier this week, (saying) we had our horses back,” Goff said. “Those guys make a huge difference.”

It shows in the way Johnson calls a game, and on the scoreboard, obviously. The Lions have scored 25 points or more in four consecutive games for the first time in a decade, and with one more 30-point outing this season they’ll tie the franchise record of seven set in 2011.

“We’re clicking right now,” Campbell said. “We’re clicking at the right time.”

And maybe — just maybe — there’s enough time left in this season for the Lions to make things interesting.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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