Football is a game of inches, but it’s also a game of minutes and seconds.
What we learned in the Detroit Lions’ first four games is the importance of playing to the end. Starting with the opener against the Cardinals, all four games have had the outcome decided or set up by a play in the last 63 seconds of regulation time.
In the case of the Cardinals, a late TD and two-point conversion led to an overtime tie. It was defensive stops in wins over the Chargers and Eagles, and a game-winning TD for the Chiefs in Sunday’s win over the Lions.
Among the other things we learned: That running back Kerryon Johnson has done nothing – when given the opportunity – to show that his promising rookie season was a fluke; offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has some wrinkles to go with his reputation for building a solid running game; and the Lions still have to learn to take advantage of playing at Ford Field.
We start with playing to the end:
One by one, here is how the first four games were decided by late plays:
Cardinals: It never should have come down to a late drive by the Cardinals. The Lions had a 24-6 lead when rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson caught a touchdown pass in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
For the rest of the quarter it was a group effort by the Lions that let the Cardinals tie the game. The defense couldn’t hold the lead. The offense couldn’t extend it. And the special teams gave up a blocked punt that put the Cardinals in position to tie the game.
A TD pass with 43 seconds left, followed by a pass for a two-point conversion sent the game into overtime. An exchange of field goals created the final 27-27 tie.
Chargers: A 13-10 lead was secured by Darius Slay’s interception in the end zone with 63 seconds left, followed by quarterback Matthew Stafford’s third-down pass to tight end Jesse James.
Eagles: A 10-point fourth-quarter lead shrank to three. It held up as the final margin in a 27-24 win when Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside couldn’t come up with a pass in the end zone with 41 seconds left.
Chiefs: A TD pass to wide receiver Kenny Golladay gave the Lions a 30-27 lead with 2:26 left, but the Chiefs rallied to win.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ scramble for a first down on fourth and eight kept the possession alive. Running back Darrel Williams scored the winning TD on a one-yard run with 20 seconds left.
Bottom line: In four full games plus a 10-minute overtime in the opener, game-deciding plays were made in a combined span of two minutes, 47 seconds.
There were other plays that set up the finish, but the end game has become an increasingly important part of NFL games.
View photos from the Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs Week 4 game at Ford Field on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019 in Detroit.
Kerryon: What’s wrong with Kerryon Johnson? That was a popular question before Sunday’s game, and a fairly legitimate one since he’d been held to 126 yards on 48 carries in the first three games.
Johnson rushed for 125 yards on 28 carries against the Chiefs, and he added two catches for 32 yards. The offensive line is starting to come around. As a result, so is Johnson’s production.
Bevell influence: Under Bevell, the Lions are getting the ball downfield more than previously. That’s reflected in Matthew Stafford’s average of 8.0 yards per attempt through four games, compared to his 6.8-yard per attempt after last year for a full season.
The ball’s also being spread around in different ways to running backs. J.D. McKissic gained 26 yards on a run out of the backfield Sunday, with the help of a block by fullback Nick Bawden. The previous week, McKissic split wide right and gained 44 yards on an end around to the left. It was his only carry of the game.
More to come, we can assume.
Dome field advantage: It’s only two games, but the Lions haven’t turned Ford Field and all its noise into their personal party pit. They’re 1-1 in the first two home games.
The atmosphere is set up for the Lions to dominate at home and make a playoff run.
They have to take advantage of it.