The state of Florida has been very good to the Detroit Lions. Last week, Detroit rallied against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay and won in overtime on a field goal. This week, down in Miami against the Dolphins, the Lions scored 17 straight points in the fourth quarter, coming back from 10 points down to win by a score of 34-27.
Much like last week's game against the Bucs, today's game against Miami was a back-and-forth affair. In the first quarter, for example, Dave Rayner made a kick from 39 yards out and into the wind. The field goal was set up by a monster Ashlee Palmer hit that forced a fumble on a punt that was recovered by Landon Johnson, giving the Lions great field position. The offense couldn't pick up a first down, but the Lions did get the field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. Miami responded at the end of the quarter with a 40-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter to even things up heading into the second.
The second quarter got started with an outstanding drive by the Lions. Now with the wind at their back, the Lions opened up the playbook and went 80 yards in six plays, scoring on a 20-yard pass to a wide open Brandon Pettigrew. The lead didn't last for long, though. Miami responded with an 80-yard drive of its own, scoring on a four-yard run by Lousaka Polite to tie things up at 10.
Right before halftime, the Dolphins took their first lead of the day on a 13-yard pass from Chad Henne to Davone Bess. The play capped off a quick drive that lasted only four plays since the Dolphins had such great field position. Detroit was pinned back deep on a Brandon Fields punt (he is another former Michigan State Spartan) and after a three and out, Miami got to start at the Lions' 40. A couple of passes and a scramble set Bess up for the touchdown, which was made possible by Tye Hill tipping the ball right to him. It looked like Bess might have stepped out of bounds before making the catch, but the referees upheld the call after a review and Hill should have knocked it down anyway.
In the second half, the Lions responded by making a stop on defense and putting together a 14-play drive on offense. The 14-play drive spanned six and a half minutes and 86 yards and was capped off by a five-yard Maurice Morris touchdown run. Calvin Johnson played a big part in keeping the chains moving throughout the drive, as he picked up two big third down conversions, including one that was a tremendous catch early on in the drive.
Continuing the back-and-forth affair, the Dolphins came back out after giving up the touchdown and scored another one of their own. Ronnie Brown got into the end zone from a yard out, capping off a nine-play, 69-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. The Dolphins took a 24-17 lead on the score and added to their lead with a 28-yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Miami played it safe by running the ball on third and long, and like Tampa Bay last week, settling for a field goal would turn out to be the wrong move.
Down by 10 points with only 7:30 to go in the game, the Lions decided to punt from the Miami 43 after being stopped on third down. I thought this was a mistake, but Jim Schwartz's faith in his defense would be rewarded. The defense made a stop after allowing only one first down, and Stefan Logan had a good punt return, taking the ball back to the Detroit 47. On the very first play of the ensuing drive, Jahvid Best caught a short pass, got a block from Nate Burleson and sprinted down the field for a 53-yard touchdown. Just like that the Lions made this a three-point game.
On Miami's next drive, Henne started falling apart for Miami. He nearly had a pass intercepted after Corey Williams deflected it at the line, but a diving Bobby Carpenter came up just short. That only delayed the inevitable, however. On the very next play, Henne threw a bad pass right to Detroit's Nathan Vasher, who caught the ball for an interception at the Miami 36. The Lions went three and out, but Dave Rayner nailed a 47-yard field goal to tie the game at 27.
On the next drive, the Lions' defense made another big play. On 3rd and 8, Henne threw a pass to Davone Bess, but he fell down. DeAndre Levy was there to make the interception, and he did his best Logan impression on the return, showing great patience as he navigated the field behind his convoy of blockers. Levy dodged tacklers and returned the pick 30 yards for a touchdown, putting the Lions on top, 34-27.
Miami got the ball back with 2:11 left on the clock and worked its way down the field against the prevent defense Detroit was running. With no timeouts left after Henne completed a pass that got the Dolphins to the Detroit 28-yard line, it was key for Miami to get out of bounds. On the next play, however, Vasher made sure that didn't happen, tackling Brown about a yard short of the sideline. Brown tried to dive out of bounds, but Vasher made an outstanding tackle to keep the clock running. For some reason the umpire took extra time to spot the ball, and by the time the next play was ready to be run the clock had already expired, ending the game and sealing the Lions' 34-27 victory.
Throughout the first three quarters of this game there were a lot of reasons to be frustrated. The defense was playing very inconsistent, and the decision to start Shaun Hill looked very questionable at times as well. By the end of the game, however, it was clear that the defense made plays when they were needed most, and Hill's statline (14/26, 222 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT) turned out to be pretty damn good. It wasn't always pretty, but unlike close games earlier this year, the Lions seem to have finally learned how to win.
This is the Lions' third straight win, which they haven't done since 2007. It is also their second straight win on the road, which hasn't been pulled off in one season since 2004. The Lions close out the season at home next week against the Vikings, which have a game against Philadelphia on Tuesday night. The short week and the possibility that Joe Webb will be their quarterback makes this game very winnable for the Lions, which could conceivably rattle off four straight wins to close out the season. Before the season I predicted the Lions to go 6-10, but if they actually pull it off, it will be in a way nobody probably expected.