As they say, a win is a win is a win. It certainly wasn't pretty at times for the Detroit Lions on Sunday, and the game was certainly a lot closer than it should've been, but thanks to a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left, none of that mattered. The Lions took a 27-23 lead on the touchdown and secured a win over the St. Louis Rams in their season opener. All that matters at the end of the day is that the Lions are now 1-0.
Based on the start of Sunday's game, it seemed like this would be anything but close. The Lions got the ball to start things off and marched right down the field with ease. The Rams couldn't do anything to stop Stafford, who completed his first six passes to six different players. Unfortunately, Stafford's hot streak came to an end at the worst possible time. On first-and-goal from the three-yard line, he made an awful decision and threw a pass into traffic. It was picked off by Janoris Jenkins, who returned it 34 yards. Instead of a touchdown for the Lions, it was now the Rams' ball.
St. Louis capitalized on the momentum from the turnover and moved the ball into Lions territory rather quickly. The Lions' defense eventually rose to the challenge and made a stop, but the Rams got a 48-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein to take an early 3-0 lead.
The Lions bounced back by going back to how they played before the interception. Stafford was able to find open targets on seemingly every play, and the Lions mixed in some running from Kevin Smith to move the chains as well. They capped off the 14-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Joique Bell, who gave the Lions a 7-3 lead.
The Rams quickly went three-and-out on their next drive, and thanks to a nice return by Stefan Logan and a penalty, the Lions took over at the St. Louis 32-yard line. It looked like they were going to easily score again after Stafford found Titus Young for 14 yards, but that didn't happen. Instead Stafford was once again picked off. This time the interception was returned to the Detroit 44, and the Rams once again got a field goal out of the turnover.
Things went from bad to worse for Stafford when the Lions got the ball back. On only the third play of Detroit's next drive, Stafford threw another pass into traffic and was again intercepted. Cortland Finnegan picked off Stafford this time around, and he took the interception to the house for a 31-yard touchdown. The Lions now trailed by a score of 13-7, and although a 51-yard pass to Calvin Johnson set up a Jason Hanson field goal before halftime to make it 13-10, things weren't looking good for the home team.
The Lions started to get things turned around in the second half by forcing a three-and-out to start the third quarter. The Lions got great field position after a punt, although all they got out of it was a 45-yard field goal by Hanson. This tied the game up, and it would remain tied for the remainder of the third quarter, as neither offense could get anything going.
Toward the start of the fourth quarter, the Lions nearly got the break they needed when Corey Williams lit up Sam Bradford and forced a fumble. The ball was nearly recovered by Justin Durant, but the Rams ultimately ended up with it. This turned out to be a very important point in the game. Had the Lions recovered, they would have had the ball inside the St. Louis 20-yard line. Instead, the Rams kept the ball and punted it away two plays later. The punt went 57 yards, Logan's return went for a loss of six yards and a penalty on the Lions backed them up all the way to their own eight-yard line.
Following a three-and-out by the Lions, the Rams were the ones with great field position. They took over in Detroit territory, and they scored a touchdown in only five plays. The score came on a 23-yard pass from Bradford to Brandon Gibson, who made a nice catch over Jonte Green. Green came in after Bill Bentley left with what is believed to be a concussion, and the Rams wasted little time in picking on him.
Now trailing 20-13, the Lions' offense finally woke up and put together a big scoring drive of their own. They went 80 yards in only five plays and scored on a five-yard run by Smith. Stafford found Brandon Pettigrew for gains of 20, 18 and 24 yards on the drive, and just like that this game was once again tied up.
The Rams answered back with a very good drive of their own. They only got a 46-yard field goal by Zuerlein, but they managed to take 5:24 off the clock and regain the lead. This left the Lions with 1:55 to get a field goal to tie things up or a touchdown to win it.
The Lions, clearly hoping to get the touchdown to win the game, quickly moved down the field with a 20-yard pass to Johnson and a 20-yarder to Nate Burleson. They were comfortably in field goal range after two more completions, but who wants to settle for a field goal and overtime? The Lions had enough time to go for the win, as they were left with 15 seconds on the clock after an 18-yard completion to Johnson put them at the five-yard line. The Lions were out of timeouts, but they had time to take a shot at the end zone. Stafford found Smith coming out of the backfield for a touchdown pass on the very next play, giving the Lions a 27-23 lead with only 10 seconds left (see below). The clock ran out on St. Louis after only two plays, meaning the Lions were able to escape with a victory.
There's no doubt that the Lions have to play better going forward, especially next week in primetime against the San Francisco 49ers. However, the important thing about Sunday's game is that the Lions did manage to win despite playing very sloppy. Stafford was off his game for most of the day, but when it mattered most, he locked in and led the Lions down the field for the game-winning touchdown. Hopefully next week there will be much less sloppiness and Chris Houston and Louis Delmas will be back on defense, as the Lions will need to be at full strength to go into San Francisco and leave with a win.