What started as a promising late afternoon for the Detroit Lions and a furious charge to put points on the scoreboard would be eradicated by the San Diego Chargers without mercy or counterattack under the hot southern California sun. Same Old Lions? Hard to tell on the very first week of a fresh NFL season, but this one certainly can't inspire any confidence.
The first drive started innocuously enough for the Lions. Calvin Johnson caught the first pass of the year for the Detroit Lions (of course it was him), followed by Joique Bell delivering a stiff arm hard enough to knock a safety's helmet clean off. This set up a run from San Diego's 24-yard line by Ameer Abdullah. His time to shine came and the Butcher went up the middle, leaving Eric Weddle dazed and flamed out somewhere along Interstate 8.
The first chance for San Diego came in the second quarter. Ezekiel Ansah welcomed Melvin Gordon to the NFL with an explosive strike on second down. Then, Philip Hunt blew up Philip Rivers to force a three-and-out. Detroit's next drive saw another three-and-out as Ebron dropped a pass. With the ball back in San Diego's hands, Melvin Gordon took over the show. Leaning on the rookie, along with veteran RB Danny Woodhead, the Chargers plowed up the field. It looked as if the Chargers had answered when Melvin Gordon rolled over Glover Quin and brought it to the endzone, but the referees ruled that Gordon's elbow was down on contact. San Diego settled for a field goal.
Later, on another San Diego drive, Philip Rivers would throw a pass that resembled something between a lazy sidearm pitch and a softball lob. The ball popped off Keenan Allen's hands and into the mitts of Glover Quin. He would take it the other way for a pick-six. The Lions now led 14-3. On the following San Diego drive, Ezekiel Ansah stood up again and sacked Rivers, and on third-and-15 the snap went over Rivers' head. This set up for the Lions to start in enemy territory. Zenner and Abdullah put in rushes to set up for a third down pass to Lance Moore for 22 yards. Then, out of the shotgun, Matthew Stafford found Eric Ebron alone on the fringes of the endzone, and the Lions were quickly up 21-3.
The Chargers would answer before the end of the half. Penalties would move the Chargers deep into Lions territory and Danny Woodhead punched a nine-yard drive up the gullet, sending shivers up the spine of @PFTCommenter. With the offensive line not looking good for the Lions, San Diego got the ball back and found itself deep in Lions territory as the two-minute warning rolled in. Rivers stepped up and threw two big plays, but a false start would force them to run out of timeouts as they stood first-and-goal with 12 seconds remaining. Rivers looked to make one more play and put it directly into...the hands of Darius Slay. The Chargers' comeback was seemingly ended.
At the half, the Lions led 21-10 over the Chargers. However, the Lions were outgained severely on offense, and the lead stood thanks to big plays from the secondary.
With temperatures reaching 105°F, the Chargers received the ball and began to push the tempo of the game, sensing the opportunity to wear down the gassed Lions defense. San Diego began to lean on screen plays and Danny Woodhead but were stopped short on their charge thanks to Glover Quin and settled for a field goal.
The Lions got the ball back. A botched snap turned into a flip to Abdullah, who took it 36 yards and completely saved the play. But the big gain would be for naught as Stafford got popped on third down; the ball leaped into the air and Kyle Emanuel snatched it. Naturally, it would come as the Fox crew were praising Matthew:
BROADCASTERS: "This could be the year that turns into a monster year for Stafford." /Stafford gets blitzed, hit, throws INT— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 13, 2015
The Lions would quickly get the ball back when Melvin Gordon lost the ball to a Jason Jones strip and Stephen Tulloch recovery. Unfortunately, an ugly throw on third down by Stafford would put the ball right back in San Diego's hands as his pass went directly to Patrick Robinson.
A serious injury to DJ Fluker would put a halt to the action for a while. When it resumed, Philip Rivers found Stevie Johnson. Johnson beat two Lions defenders and put it in the endzone; after the PAT, the Lions lead had been scythed to one single point. Stafford was talking to trainers on the sideline and returned with a compression sleeve on his throwing arm; Calvin Johnson had only been targeted twice.
The next Lions possession saw Abdullah fall short of a first down. The Lions punted, giving the Chargers a chance to snatch the lead in the fourth quarter.
Philip Rivers kept picking out Keenan Allen and blowing up Rashean Mathis. Before the Lions could adjust, Rivers found Ladarius Green in the endzone. The lead was gone. A delay of game on the two-point conversion attempt kept the Chargers from taking a seven point lead, so they settled on a PAT instead...and missed.
Eric Weddle stopped rare a rare pass toward Calvin Johnson, and Ameer Abdullah finally found the ball slipping out of his hands, although he recovered his own fumble. Stafford put it over Golden Tate's head in what seemed to be another case of miscommunication. The Lions punted.
Sensing blood, Rivers continued to target Keenan Allen (continuing to burn Rashean Mathis in the process). A bubble screen to Stevie Johnson turned into a 34-yard gain. The defense was overheated and fraying now along with the offense. A key stop could have been had on third-and-19, but the Lions decided to blitz and Philip Rivers continued to prove his excellence as he found (can you guess who?) Keenan Allen again. The dagger was in.
With 3 minutes left, Darius Slay went down and would leave the game limping. The Chargers offense continued to chug along, and a Danny Woodhead one-yard touchdown put this one on ice. As the clock struck two minutes, Thom Brennaman exclaimed "this game's not over yet!"
He would be wrong. Although Stafford would cut up the middle of the field and find Theo Riddick in the endzone before the one-minute mark, the onside kick would careen out of bounds. The game was over.
Final Score: 33-28 Chargers
Somewhere, the Lions offense got turned around and found itself in Coronado. The defense overheated. Rashean Mathis looked puzzled. Darius Slay was marked as questionable for return. No one was sure where Calvin Johnson had vanished, too; maybe Kensington, or further afield in La Mesa, we're not certain. Stafford struggled after taking a hit and looked, as we've seen many times before, brilliant yet ineffective in the same game. Unfortunately that ineffectiveness lasted too long and the brilliance came far too late.
The shining moment of the day for the Detroit Lions was Ameer Abdullah, who clocked in valiant performances on both offense (seven carries for 50 yards) and special teams. The Lions play the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis next Sunday.