The Detroit Lions secured their first regular season victory of the 2017 campaign, defeating the Arizona Cardinals 35-23 at Ford Field. Detroit looked awful to start off the game, but a powerful second-half surge earned them a 1-0 record to begin the year. The second-half surge provided three Lions takeaways for the week one win.
Week One Detroit Lions Takeaways
1) Matthew Stafford Proves His Worth
Matthew Stafford’s afternoon did not get off to a very hot start. On his very first pass attempt, Stafford tossed an interception that Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel returned 82 yards for a touchdown. The pick-six, which gave Arizona a 7-0 lead, prompted disgust from Lions fans who expected more from the richest man in football. Chants of “we want our money back!” and “overpaid!” soon echoed the walls of Ford Field.
It didn’t get much better as the first quarter moved on. Over their next three possessions, the Lions punted twice and were turned over on downs as Stafford continued to struggle.
But eventually, the Georgia alum showed why he deserves the five year, $135 million deal he signed less than two weeks ago. His first score of the day came with four minutes left in the half, a six-yard pass to Marvin Jones that cut the Cardinals lead to 10-6. With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the former number one overall selection hurled another seven-yard dart to Theo Riddick that made the score 17-15 in Arizona’s favor.
Then, Stafford executed exactly what charged the Lions 2016 postseason run: the fourth-quarter comeback. First, the 29-year-old connected with Kenny Golladay on a 10-yard score- the rookie’s first career touchdown- to give Detroit the lead with 9:27 left in the game. Five minutes later, he found Golladay again for a 45-yard heave that widened the Lions edge to 28-17, an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
Stafford finished the contest with a statline of 292 yards, four touchdowns, one pick and a 113.1 passer rating. He also completed 29 of 41 passes and rushed two times for 12 yards. But the numbers are not what the Lions will be focusing on when it comes to their quarterback’s play.
Last season, Stafford’s eight fourth-quarter comebacks were an integral part of Detroit’s surprisingly-successful campaign. Furthermore, those comebacks were also a huge reason the Lions gave the one-time Pro Bowler a monster contract this past August. Through one game, the Tampa native has lived up to the deal. Hopefully, that can continue as the season progresses.
2) Kenny Golladay: A Debut For The Ages
Throughout the preseason, Kenny Golladay showed flashes of enormous potential. And in week one, the third-round pick did not disappoint.
Despite entering Sunday as the fourth receiver on the Lions depth chart and with concerns about an injured ankle, Golladay placed second on the team with seven targets. The Northern Illinois alum caught four of them for 69 yards in addition to the two fourth-quarter touchdowns that clinched Detroit’s victory.
His second score was the highlight of the afternoon, as Golladay flattened out to secure the 45-yard touchdown bomb. The diving grab was a perfect representation of the kind of athlete the Lions snagged with the 96th overall selection this past April.
Golladay has quickly become Stafford’s favorite target in the endzone. Standing at 6’4” and 213 pounds, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The 23-year-old is the team’s first true red zone option at wide receiver since Calvin Johnson’s retirement. In addition, Golladay’s combination of size and speed mirrors that of Megatron quite well.
Obviously, nobody can replace Johnson. He is a Detroit legend and future Hall-of-Famer. But so far, Golladay has been a nice supplement. His athleticism and knack for reeling in the big catches proves that he has a bright future in this league. For now, hope he extends his fantastic debut into the coming weeks.
3) Defensive Masterpiece
Although both Stafford and Golladay had great performances on the offensive end, it was Detroit’s defense that truly warrants the spotlight.
First of all, the Lions managed to contain David Johnson on the ground, limiting him to just 23 yards on 11 carries. Johnson did total 68 yards through the air on six receptions, but there’s only so much you can do.
The biggest impact the defense had, though, was in turnovers. They intercepted Carson Palmer three times, including a pick-six by Miles Killebrew that put the game out of reach with four minutes left. Additionally, Detroit was even able to force two Johnson fumbles, one of which they recovered.
Of course, one may attribute the Lions field day on defense to the fact that Palmer is a 37-year-old quarterback counting down his days until retirement. The former USC Trojan did miss a lot of easy targets and even had two other near-interceptions that would’ve just added to the turnover total. But credit still has to be served where it is due, and Detroit’s defense showed up to play Sunday.
Another promising portion of the Lions defensive masterpiece was the debut of Jarrad Davis. Davis, the team’s first-round selection in the 2017 Draft, led Detroit with nine tackles to go along with a fumble recovery. The Florida alum has a lot of pressure to replace former All-Pro linebacker DeAndre Levy, who the Lions cut in March. So far, he’s done well in handling that added stress.