Lions Look: Recharged
It was ugly, but it's still a win that counts in the standings.
The Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers played a sloppy, mistake addled game at Ford Field, with the final miscue committed by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers as Lions cornerback Darius Slay intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Keenan Allen in the end zone to ultimately seal a 13-10 win for Detroit (1-0-1). While the numbers were relatively even in many respects, each team told a different story based on their play.
The LA Chargers (1-1) were entering the game without tight end Hunter Henry and kicker Michael Badgley, with Henry's contributions key in the Bolts overtime victory over Indianapolis last week. Badgley was particularly missed as punter and reserve kicker Ty Long would miss two field goals, a 39 yard attempt that struck the left upright and a 41 yarder that sailed wide right. But if one was looking for a turning point in the game, look no further than early in the third quarter. After stopping the Lions opening possession in the second half by intercepting QB Matthew Stafford in the end zone to trigger a touchback, the Chargers would march down the field but be stymied by penalties, as two touchdowns were taken off the scoreboard as a result. But Detroit's Slay was hit with a pass interference call in defending against Allen in the end zone, which placed the ball on the 1 yard line to give LA at least 3 shots to score a TD. But on 1st & goal, as RB Austin Ekeler, filling in for an absent Melvin Gordon, jumped the pile of humanity on the line of scrimmage trying to score, linebacker Jahlani Tavai stripped Ekeler of the ball, where fellow LB Devon Kennard would recover the loose ball to kill LA's offensive drive.
While this was critical in the Lions' fortunes in this game, it did not ensure victory. Detroit themselves were forced to make changes in personnel due to injuries. Left tackle Taylor Decker was inactive due to back issues, which led an offensive line shuffle that started Tyrell Crosby in his place which was tasked with containing the Chargers' pass rushing tandem in DE's Joey Boss and Melvin Ingram, a tall order to be sure. The line did a spectacular job in keeping Stafford clean, as they gave up zero sacks to that unit. The Lions were far from perfect in general, though. Stafford threw two picks, K Matt Prater missed an extra point wide left and hooked a 40 yard attempt wide right, punt returner Jamal Agnew fumbled on a return (the second time in as many weeks), special teams coverage units were being penalized, extending field length for the offense as a result, and the defense suffered breakdowns in the second half once the Chargers made halftime adjustments. While it may be understood that many teams are still working out their particular kinks this time of year, it's still unsettling to see a professional level team have such struggles. But, when that team still pulls out the win, it's very encouraging going forward. And for a Lions squad that will be in a highly competitive division in the NFC North, every conceivable edge one could get will be welcome.
The good news for the Lions is with their 1-0-1 record, they find themselves in second place in the NFC North behind the 2-0 Green Bay Packers. But Detroit is still traversing a difficult section of their schedule, as the Eagles in Philadelphia are next up. They may be 1-1, but this is still a former Super Bowl champion and potential contender for this year's highest prize. Once again, the Lions will have their hands full as they look to build upon the momentum they gained against a playoff qualifier from one year ago in facing another.