Statistics don’t win games. Players win games by making plays.
That’s what we learned in the Detroit Lions’ 13-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday.
Cornerback Darius Slay’s interception of a pass meant for Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen with 1:03 left in the game was a prime example of the difference between stats and winning plays.
Among the other things we learned from Sunday’s game were the following:
A closer look at the stats wasn’t one-sided in Allen’s favor, as the raw stats might have indicated; small plays were part of a big play by linebacker Jahlani Tavai; wide receiver Kenny Golladay's big game and only one catch for rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson shows how the pendulum of opportunity swings from week to week in the NFL.
We start with Slay:
He covered Allen most of the day in one of the game’s featured matchups. And until Philip Rivers launched his last pass of the game – a shot meant for Allen into the front left corner of the end zone – Allen had put up good stats. On the first 14 targets, he had eight catches for 98 yards. It was a good day, not a great one.
And it ended up less than good.
Slay won the day with his interception on target No. 15. Slay described the matchup, and the final play, as follows:
“He was setting me up with (opportunities) all game. I kind of baited it – made him run the out route on me on the run and made a play on it.”
As Chris Spielman said in his commentary on 3 & Out on Detroitlions.com, Slay ran the route better than Allen did.
Slay looked forward to the matchup. He and Allen were drafted in 2013 and know each other personally.
“I was looking forward to this matchup just as much as he was,” Slay said. “Now I just wish him the best the rest of the season.”
The stats: Rivers targeted Allen with 15 of his 36 passes. Allen’s eight catches gained 98 yards, and the interception came on Rivers’ last pass of the game. His passer rating on passes thrown to Allen was a lowly 45.97.
Rivers completed 15 of his 21 other passes for 195 yards, no TDs and no interceptions. His passer rating on those 21 passes was 95.93.
The Chargers didn’t win the game, or the stats battle in the matchup of Slay vs. Allen.
Tavai’s hit: Tavai gets full credit for getting his hand on the ball and forcing a fumble on Chargers running back Austin Ekeler’s attempt to dive into the end zone on first and goal at the one in the third quarter.
There was more to the play, though. Safety Tavon Wilson knifed in from Ekeler’s left to hit him before he could get any momentum to make his leap, as he did on his first-quarter TD.
And Tavai had to survive a hit – call it friendly fire – before he could make a play on Ekeler. Tavai and Slay bumped briefly as Slay cut across the defensive formation from right to left to follow a receiver in motion.
Tavai recovered his balance quickly enough to close on Ekeler and get his hand on the ball and knock it loose.
Lesson learned: In the stats book, it’s recorded as a forced fumble for Tavai, and a fumble recovery for Devon Kennard. As we learned, a lot more went into making it happen – and almost not happen.
Golladay, repeat: Get open, and quarterback Matthew Stafford will get the ball to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a veteran.
We learned that again Sunday, when Golladay was Stafford’s go-to target for 10 of his 30 passes. Golladay had eight catches for 117 yards and the winning TD on a 31-yard catch midway through the fourth quarter.
Golladay learned to be ready as a rookie on opening day of 2017. Stafford hit him with two TD passes in a fourth-quarter rally for a 35-23 win over the Cardinals.
The stats: Stafford’s passer rating on the 10 targets for Golladay – which included a third-quarter interception in the end zone – was 109.17.
That’s 63.2 points higher than Rivers’ passer rating for passes thrown to Allen.
Hockenson: The rookie tight end was held to one catch for seven yards on three targets. What happened after catching six passes on nine targets for 131 yards and a TD in the opener?
Football happened. Defenses adjust to what they’ve seen, and the Chargers did that to Hockenson in his second pro game. That left Golladay open for eight catches, and Marvin Jones Jr. open for five – and a key fourth-down catch on the play before Golladay’s game-winning catch.
Hockenson will be fine.
One man’s advice (which I’m sure he doesn’t need): Be ready. Stafford’s coming to you again.