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O'HARA: What we learned from Week 3

The answers aren't always in the stats – from bold type down to tiny italics – when searching for plays that made a difference in the outcome of a football game.

They aren't always in the highlight videos, either.

What we learned in the Detroit Lions' 26-23 road win over the Arizona Cardinals is that small plays that get overshadowed in the fury of the game can make a difference, too.

In fact, head coach Matt Patricia spoke highly of those plays and the players who make them in his weekly Monday zoom press conference.

"There are a lot of those plays that we put in the 'smart football' category," Patricia said.

"Guys being able to finish the plays and the details of the job – I think that's what really separates some of those big plays and some of the game situation stuff that allows us to be in a different situation that helps us win."

What we've learned from following football over the years is that there are numerous examples in every game of players making seemingly small contributions that make major impact.

Here are three examples from Sunday's game:

First quarter: Linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. would go on to have a big game, with six tackles and an interception, but on this play he helped protect the 3-0 lead the Lions had taken with a field goal on the first possession of the game.

On the ensuing possession, the Cardinals had third and 10 at the Lions' 30 – well in position to kick a tying field goal – when quarterback Kyler Murray dropped back to pass. On a rush up the middle, Collins got pressure on Murray that did not allow him to follow through on a pass down the middle.

The result was a high throw that safety Duron Harmon was able to intercept at the Lions' 11-yard line and return 21 yards to the 32. That ended the Cardinals' threat and kept the Lions in the lead, 3-0.

Fourth quarter: As we've learned in recent years, performance on special teams has become more important to gain an advantage.

On this sequence, the Lions gained an advantage at a critical point in the game.

Punter John Fox had another big game for the Lions, punting four times for a gross average of 55.5 yards per punt and a net of 50.5. For perspective, that's slightly more than half a football field in net average.

With the Lions facing a 23-20 deficit, Fox punted from the Cardinals' 45. He landed a ball that the coverage unit downed at the two-yard line.

"The effort on some of the coverage guys – especially those guys out there running down the punt – I thought that was outstanding," Patricia said. "Especially the last one we stopped in there deep."

The Lions' defense forced a punt that Jamal Agnew returned 10 yards to the Cardinals' 35. The possession ended in Matt Prater's 34-yard field goal – his third of the game – that made it 23-23.

Fourth quarter, winning drive: The Lions began the final possession of the game at their nine-yard line. Led by quarterback Matthew Stafford's passing and some tough runs by Adrian Peterson, the Lions moved steadily down the field.

On the eighth play of the possession, Stafford threw a pass that wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. caught and cut upfield along the right sideline. With a Cardinals' defender closing in, Jones cut slightly to his left and went down in bounds at the 18 with 58 seconds left.

By staying inbounds, Jones kept the clock running. It was a smart play by a veteran who knew that working the clock was more important than gaining a few extra yards and risking going out of bounds.

The Cardinals had only one timeout left, and they chose not to use it.

Prater's 39-yard field goal won the game as time expired.

Looking back, that was three plays out of approximately 140, including offense, defense and special teams.

Those three plays – pressure on a quarterback, downing a punt to set up field position, and staying in bounds to keep the clock running – made a difference.

What we learned again is that small plays – smart plays, as Patricia calls them – add up.

They added up in a win for the Lions.

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