It was redemption at the very least, and maybe a lot more in the long run, in what the Detroit Lions accomplished Sunday in what has been a strange two weeks of the NFL season.
They stopped the downhill slide before it really gained any momentum in their 13-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in a bounce-back game from the disappointing tie with the Cardinals in Week 1.
The needed a lift, and they got it the only way they could – by winning.
“Everyone was kind of down,” said running back Kerryon Johnson. “But we had to rebound and come back and win. This one ... it was nice.”
Nice, yes, and in a very tough way in how the Lions got the job done.
This week’s Monday Countdown looks at Kerryon’s role as the Lions passed an early gut check.
There’s also a look at what gives quarterback Matthew Stafford the guts to complete big passes after big interceptions, how the offensive line protected him with a big change at one spot, and rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai’s big play.
There are also takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, who’s trending for the Lions – up, down and holding steady – and the bottom line for the Lions from Week 2.
We start with Kerryon Johnson:
1. Catch and run: The Lions are still searching to get the running game going. After 16 caries for 49 yards against the Cardinals, Johnson came back with 12 carries for 41 yards against the Chargers.
His longest run both weeks was nine yards.
Johnson will get his yards – eventually. His 36-yard run with a screen pass for the Lions’ first TD – that cut the Chargers’ lead to 7-6 when Matt Prater missed the extra point – showed that he hasn’t lost any speed or elusiveness.
It looked like a simple throw from Stafford to Johnson. It wasn’t. Stafford gunned it through a slight opening, and Johnson said he bobbled it briefly because a Chargers’ defender nearly got an arm on it.
What did he think at the time?
“I better catch it,” he said. “Because if you drop it, and then you look up and see the whole open lane, you’re like, ‘That’s it for me. I have to walk off the field now.’ You better catch it. You have to recover.
“I’ve got Stafford as a quarterback. He’s going to find a way to get it in there.”
2. Stafford time: His passing stats for the game were good overall – 22 of 30 (73.3 percent) for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
His 31-yarder to wide receiver Kenny Golladay through a tiny crack in coverage midway through the fourth quarter proved to be the winning touchdown. It came after two interceptions in the third quarter that took the luster off his game.
One pick was in the end zone by cornerback Casey Hayward on a pass meant for Golladay. The second was a deep throw down the middle meant for Marvin Jones Jr. that safety Rayshawn Jenkins tracked down for the second pick.
So, did Stafford go in a shell?
Not a chance.
“He’s not going to come back and get down,” Johnson said. “He’s going to sling it.”
On the drive to Golladay’s winning catch, Stafford completed all four of his passes. One was a four-yard throw to Jones on fourth and one.
A seven-yard pass to tight end Jesse James clinched the game on the final three-play possession to set up the kneel down.
That’s five for five on the last two possessions for the go-ahead TD and the game clincher.
3. Personal QB protection: It was relatively lonely in the pocket for Stafford. Not that he would mind. After a tough opener against the Cardinals, with three sacks and 10 hits, the offensive line gave up one hit and no sacks to the Chargers.
Tyrell Crosby held up at left tackle – with some help – in place of Taylor Decker, who was out with a back injury.
“We’ve all got each other’s backs, really,” Crosby said. “Throughout the game we’re all just keeping each other motivated. It’s just an awesome group.”
4. Tavai time: Rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai made a big play for the second straight week. Last week it was a sack of rookie QB Kyler Murray. It was a much bigger play on Sunday.
Late in the third quarter he forced a fumble when the Chargers had first and goal at the one and were in position to add to their 10-6 lead. Running back Austin Ekeler, who scored the Chargers’ first TD on a leap over the line in the first half, tried the same thing again.
“I just got a hand on it (the ball).” Tavai said.
What did he think when he saw the ball was loose?
“I was just trying to get to it,” Tavai said. “DK (Devon Kennard) beat me to it.”
5. Takeaways, offense:
- Any receiver can be Stafford’s go-to guy in a given game. Against the Chargers it was Golladay’s turn: Eight catches for 117 yards and a TD. He had four catches for 42 yards against Arizona. Next week? We’ll see.
- Rookie Ty Johnson is getting quality snaps – and producing. He had five carries for 30 yards, and two catches for six yards. He was also deep on one kickoff return that was a touchback.
- The stats are clear that the Lions are throwing the ball downfield more. Stafford has averaged more than eight yards per attempt in each of the first two games. It was 8.6 yards in Week 1 and 8.2 Sunday.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- The defense gave up 18 points in the last 11:09 of regulation time against the Cardinals. The Chargers kicked a field goal on the final play of the first half and got no points in the last 30 minutes of the game.
- It could have been a costly lapse when Philip Rivers was able to run 12 yards for a first down on third and 10 in the fourth quarter.
- Keenan Allen won the stats battle against Darius Slay, but the only catch in the end zone was made by Slay – an interception that killed the Chargers’ last drive.
7. Takeaways special teams:
- Matt Prater missing twice from any distance – extra point attempt, 40-yard field goal attempt – is unthinkable. But it happened Sunday.
- Penalties have cost the Lions yards and field position on returns.
- For the second straight week Sam Martin had a punt downed inside the five-yard line – Arizona’s one in Week 1, the Chargers' three on Sunday.
- Up: Golladay. He was the main man on offense Sunday, with eight catches for 117 yards and the winning TD.
- Down: Jamal Agnew: Rookie production is missing, and Danny Amendola handled the last two punts.
- Holding: Frank Ragnow. Steady in the switch from guard to center.
9. Bottom line: The Lions haven’t played their best ball yet, and they’re still 1-0-1. But they’ll play teams who will get better, too.