With Monday Night Football in town to kick off the season, the Detroit Lions couldn't have asked for a better start to 2014. They cruised to a 35-14 win over the New York Giants in a one-sided affair. There was some sloppiness for the Lions in the penalty department in the first half, and it felt sort of like a repeat of last year with opportunities for points left on the field. However, the Lions were dominant in the second half, and they pulled away to win by three touchdowns.
The Lions' season opener really couldn't have gotten off to a better starter for them. Four plays into the season, on third-and-9, Matthew Stafford juked by a rusher, looked downfield and found a wide open Calvin Johnson for a 67-yard touchdown. Yes, Johnson somehow got wide open. The big-time score gave the Lions a 7-0 lead, and after forcing a three-and-out, they made it a 14-0 lead with another Stafford-to-Johnson touchdown. This time, on the ninth play of the drive, Stafford avoided pressure and sidearmed a pass to Johnson, who fully extended in the end zone for a diving touchdown.
Things continued to go the Lions' way after another defensive stop. Tahir Whitehead partially blocked the ensuing punt, causing it to go only 16 yards. The Lions took over with decent field position as a result -- their own 36 -- but they were unable to do anything with it after Johnson failed to hang on to another pass downfield. The Lions were clearly going for the jugular early, but they ended up with a three-and-out instead.
Momentum shifted in the Giants' favor after a Sam Martin punt thanks to penalties on the Lions. Detroit forced a stop at midfield after a sack by George Johnson, but Jerome Couplin was flagged for roughing the punter. It looked like he was blocked into the punter, but there was a flag nonetheless, and Darius Slay was flagged for defensive pass interference in the end zone four plays later. Amazingly, the Giants were unable to get in from a yard out on their first three tries, but they succeeded on fourth-and-goal on a fade to the 6-foot-6 Larry Donnell. They unsuccessfully tried two fades earlier in this sequence, but the third time was the charm, making this a 14-7 game.
The Lions and Giants traded punts on the next two possessions. After this, the Lions put together a promising drive that was really killed by a penalty on Dominic Raiola. They got down to the New York 23 following a 24-yard pass to Johnson, but Raiola got his hands up in the facemask of a defender. This penalty backed them up 15 yards, and after the drive stalled, Nate Freese pushed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Luckily for the Lions, the Giants were unable to do anything in the final two minutes of the first half after getting the ball back. The Lions forced a stop shortly after New York crossed midfield, and Detroit simply ran out the final 49 seconds of the second quarter. They took a touchdown lead into halftime, although it should have been much more than that considering they outgained the Giants by a margin of 227-75.
Much like the first half, the Lions opened the second half with things going in their favor. New York's opening drive came to an end on third down with an amazing DeAndre Levy interception (he somehow kept the ball off the ground), and this led to a 28-yard field goal by Freese. Then, following a quick three-and-out by the Giants, the Lions added a 27-yard field goal. This field goal was set up by a 44-yard pass to Golden Tate on third down and a 26-yard pass to Joseph Fauria a couple plays later.
The Lions continued to pour it on with a Glover Quin interception on the first and only play of New York's next drive. Nick Fairley provided the pressure, and Quin returned the pick to the New York 19. Five plays later, the Lions found the end zone on a Stafford scramble from 5 yards out. With the third quarter winding down, the Lions now had complete control of this game with a 27-7 lead.
The Giants managed to make things a bit interesting by putting together their first good drive in some time. They went 80 yards on 14 plays over the course of 6:58, and they scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings. The touchdown came after a big conversion on third-and-15 earlier in the drive, and it made this a two-possession game.
With 11:53 on the clock and their lead down to two touchdowns, the Lions need a lengthy drive that ended in points. This was the kind of situation where they failed so miserably in the second half of the 2013 season, but they had a picture-perfect possession this time around. They got some big conversions on third down with passes to Johnson and Tate, and Joique Bell later found the end zone with a 3-yard touchdown run. He proceeded to celebrate with the crowd, and the Lions proceeded to convert their 2-point conversion attempt with a pass to Fauria. The Lions now had a 35-14 lead following a 12-play drive that took 7:14 off the clock.
After the Giants were stuffed on fourth-and-1 on their next drive, this game was as good as over. The Lions picked up one first down and were able to simply line up in the victory formation a couple times to clinch their first win of 2014.
On Sunday, the Lions will look to improve to 2-0 when they take on the Carolina Panthers in their first road game of 2014.
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