The more the Detroit Lions get tested under fire, the more they seem determined to prove that their iron will won't break under pressure.
The Lions broke out to a 21-0 lead in the first 8:15 of the game but had to fight back to emerge with a 33-28 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday.
The victory wasn't clinched until quarterback Jared Goff completed two third-down passes in the Lions' final possession.
Prior to that, the Lions broke up a fourth-down pass by the Saints with 2:56 left. That turned the ball over to the Lions' offense, where Goff connected with rookie Sam LaPorta and Josh Reynolds to send the Lions home to Detroit with an important victory.
It made the Lions' won-loss record 9-3 and gave them a three-game lead in the NFC North with five games left.
Head coach Dan Campbell did not downplay the value of the victory.
"It's December," Campbell said in his postgame interview on 97.1. "Every time we stack another one, it puts more pressure on everybody."
This week's Monday Countdown looks at how a veteran and a rookie handled the key pressure moments in the game.
There's also takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what's trending and the bottom line.
1. The veteran: Goff had decent stats Sunday: 16 completions in 25 attempts, 213 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
More important were the two throws he made on third-down situations at the end of the game that kept the Saints from getting another chance to win the game.
First was a 10-yard throw to LaPorta for a first down at midfield on third and seven.
Next was the clincher—a 12-yard throw to Reynolds on third and nine.
All that was left was for the Lions to run the victory formation twice.
"It's gutsy," Campbell said of how Goff stood in there with the rush coming. "When you need a play most, to be able to move around and step in the pocket and know he's getting drilled and still make that pass, that's a guy making a play when you need it most."
2. The rookie: LaPorta is a special player. He had nine catches on nine targets. That means he caught everything that was thrown his way. He had 140 receiving yards and a touchdown.
"The sky's the limit for LaPorta," Campbell said. "When the lights are on and the pressure's on, he really is at his best. He showed up huge for us."
3. Lions' playing style: Getting two turnovers and turning them into touchdowns is how Campbell envisioned it.
"It's who we have to be," he said. "That's got to be our recipe. We desperately need to play football that way. Take care of the ball. Our defense gives us something.
"We can stay in any game, and we can fight with anybody."
4. Takeaways, offense:
- Ball security: The Lions had no lost fumbles and no interceptions.
- On the run: Another productive game for the Lions, with 142 yards rushing – 60 for Jahmyr Gibbs and 56 by David Montgomery to lead the way.
- Target share: LaPorta had nine catches and Amon-Ra St. Brown had two. Five other Lions had one catch.
5. Takeaways, defense:
- Pass rush: The Lions had two quarterback sacks, seven tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. That's a improvement over what they've done recently.
- Stopped: New Orleans had five possessions without gaining a first down. That does not count a kneel down at the end of the first half.
- Running back Jamaal Williams, who spent the previous two seasons with the Lions, was held to 10 yards on five carries.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- Leg work: On five punts Jack Fox averaged 50.8 yards, with a net of 44.8.
- Returns: The Saints returned five punts from Fox and averaged only six yards per punt.
7. What's trending:
- Up: LaPorta. The Lions have a history of good tight ends. He's adding to it.
- Down: Lions' losing streaks. They haven't lost two straight games since Oct. 30, 2022.
- Even: Montgomery and Gibbs. They make a good running back duo.
8. Bottom line: Like all good teams, the Lions find a way to win.