FIRST DOWN: LAPORTA'S PERFORMANCE
The Detroit Lions might really have something special in rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. LaPorta doesn't look like a rookie at all, which is really rare for that position.
LaPorta was quarterback Jared Goff's favorite target Sunday, and his play was a big reason why Detroit walked out of New Orleans with a 33-28 victory to improve to 9-3 on the season and build a three-game lead in the NFC North.
LaPorta caught all nine of his targets, including a critical 10-yard grab on a 3rd and 7 with two minutes to play that helped ice the game. He finished with 140 receiving yards and a touchdown and now has 64 receptions for 679 yards and six touchdowns on the year.
"As comfortable as anyone I've played with," Goff said of LaPorta after the game. "I compare him to what Saint (Amon-Ra St. Brown) was doing as a rookie as far as on the field, off the field, the type of pro he is and knowing his assignments and rarely has a MA (missed assignment). He's just such a reliable guy."
With his sixth touchdown, LaPorta passed David Hill (5 in 1976) for the second most a Lions rookie tight end has produced in a season. He is one of only three tight ends in Lions history to produce 600-plus receiving yards and six-plus touchdowns in a season: LaPorta (2023), T.J. Hockenson (2020) and Jim Gibbons (1964).
LaPorta has a chance to smash not only Detroit's single-season rookie tight end records but if he keeps this up he could rival some of the best rookie seasons at the position in NFL history. Lions general manager Brad Holmes hit a home run selecting LaPorta in the second round this year.
LaPorta said he won't allow himself to reflect on the season he's having until after its over.
"You don't want to get caught up in all that," he said. "Just kind of muddies your vision. Clouds your vision for the team and the success that we hope to have."
And of course, LaPorta credited everyone around him for his success not just on Sunday but all season long.
SECOND DOWN: CRITICAL MOMENTS
We've seen it time and time again this season that in critical moments late in the game, Lions head coach Dan Campbell trusts his offense and Goff to make the plays to win the game.
That was the case Sunday against the Saints with Campbell opting to throw the football on two third downs with less than two minutes to play to win the game with what's been their strength all season.
"You can go one of two ways," Campbell said. "We went the, 'Let's go get this first down.' That's about it. I wanted to go get it."
A coach only does that if he trusts his quarterback completely in those situations and Goff has proven he can be trusted. It was 3rd and 7 with two minutes, 48 seconds left and Goff hit LaPorta for 10 yards and a first down. Three plays later on a 3rd and 9 with one minute, 54 seconds remaining Goff hit wide receiver Josh Reynolds for 12 yards and a first down to end the game.
"Knew we were going to have to make some plays there at the end to kind of seal the thing and obviously love it," Goff said of the trust he has from Campbell. "It's what you live for to make plays when it matters."
Goff made the throws late that will continue to earn Campbell's trust. He finished 16-of-25 passing for 213 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 117.6 passer rating.
THIRD DOWN: ESTABLISHING THE RUN
Campbell said it was very intentional that Detroit's opening drive consisted of five runs for 59 yards and a touchdown.
"Very intentional. Very intentional," he said. "Our offensive line was going to set the tone for the game was the plan and they did that."
After a game last week that wasn't up to the standards of an offensive line that is one of the best in football, that unit came out and set the tone from the first drive and played really well all game. Goff was sacked just once in the pass game, and the big guys opened up holes for a run game that finished with 142 yards on 30 carries (4.7 average) with a couple touchdowns.
The offense set a single season record by producing 325-plus total net yards for the 12th straight game.
Even after losing center Frank Ragnow to a knee injury in the second half the Lions were able to protect Goff and allow him to make the plays to win the game.
FOURTH DOWN: BOUNCING BACK
After each of Detroit's first two losses of the season they were able to bounce back with wins and start winning streaks. In the month of December that's even more critical with the Lions coming off a defeat to Green Bay on Thanksgiving where they didn't play particularly well on either side of the ball.
Good teams bounce back and avoid stacking losses, and this 2023 Lions team continues to do just that. Resiliency seems to be a hallmark of this squad and that's a good trait to have.
"I think it's very important," Campbell said. "That's what this league is all about. I think the teams that are able to respond after you lose a tough one. To me, it's not easy to gain confidence in losses, but I think you have to be able to do that because you understand your own errors. You understand what you have to clean up. Then you don't want to lose that way again or like that again.
"Look, we bounced back, and I'm not surprised knowing the guys we have and the coaches that are in that locker room. The players that we have."
Campbell said his team had some of the best practices they had all year this past week. He said it was competitive and intense, and that's how they came out of the gate Sunday and how they finished.