EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –Burning questions: Big plays on defense, special teams and offense for the Detroit Lions, a key winning challenge late in the game and big plays from the top of the roster to the bottom in a 24-10 victory over the New York Giants on Monday Night TV:
**Question: What made the difference for the Lions?
Answer: The basic answer is that they are better than the Giants. Both teams had their flaws, and the Lions certainly had their share – especially from an offensive line that had a holding penalty called on every one of the starters except center Travis Swanson.
But when it came to game-winning plays, the Lions made more. They got them from their stars – two touchdown passes by Matthew Stafford and three of the five sacks by Ziggy Ansah.
And they also got them from their role players. And no play was bigger than the 88-yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie Jamal Agnew in the fourth quarter. That extended the Lions' lead from 17-10 to 24-10.
There was more work to do, and the Lions did it.
Q. First place: That's where the Lions are in the NFC North with a 2-0 record. Is that a big deal?
A. They don't give out trophies in the middle of September. What counts is that the Lions are 2-0, and they've beaten a tough team from the NFC East on the road. First place looks good, but 2-0 looks better.
Q. Caldwell challenge: Was it a bold move by head coach Jim Caldwell to throw the challenge flag in the fourth quarter when officials ruled that a pass caught by Giants running back Shane Vereen on fourth and three had gained enough yards for a first down?
A. I don't know if it was bold, but it was the right thing to do. It was fourth and three at the Giants 48, and it didn't look like Vereen had gotten enough yards to get the first down. Officials ruled it was a first down, and Caldwell threw the challenge flag.
Q. Close: How close was it?
A. Not very. Quandre Diggs clearly had stopped Vereen's forward motion and drove him back. Under rules, officials first spotted the ball again where the forward motion was shown on the replay. Next, they measured again for a first down. It wasn't really close.
The Lions ran three plays before punting, and the Giants got the ball back again inside their 10 instead of at midfield, where they had been when officials ruled they had a first down.
Q. TD reversal: It looked like the Lions scored a touchdown on a fumble return on the Giants' first possession, but replay nullified it. What happened? And right call on the reversal?
A. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata got free to hit Eli Manning as he looked downfield to find an open receiver. The ball popped loose, and was batted around before Darius Slay got it in the end zone for an apparent Lions TD. However, replays showed clearly that Manning's left knee touched the turf before the ball came out.
Net result: Great sack by Ngata. Good recovery by Slay. And right call on the replay to overturn the call on the field.
Q. Jump ball: Marvin Jones Jr. caught the ball over Giants cornerback Eli Apple for the Lions' first touchdown and a 7-0 lead. What made the play?
A. First was the fact that Stafford noticed that Jones had single coverage on the outside on a third and 12 play from the 27. Jones got position on Apple, who never turned around to look for the ball. Jones was able to jump and make the catch in the end zone.
Q. Giant steps, in the air: They were shut down on the first possession, but got it together after Jones' TD on a drive to a tying TD. What made the difference?
A. The Giants couldn't run on their first possession, so they didn't try on the second. They gained 12 yards on an end around by Sterling Shepard on the first play, then ran only once more – for a one-yard loss – in the next five plays.
Q. Beckham's game: There was a question if Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. would play because of a sprained ankle. He played. How would you rate his performance?
A. Average for most receivers, below average for Beckham. He wasn't close to being himself. As a result, he didn't make any impact.
Q. Bottom line: It was a game where not everyone had their best day. That goes for both teams and the referees. What did the final result mean?
A. It means that the better team won. The Detroit Lions are better than the New York Giants. Anyone who thinks otherwise, look at the score: Lions 24, Giants 10.