With the Lions desperate to get their first win of the 2015 NFL season and fans looking for a strong home opener, Detroit hosted the Denver Broncos for Sunday Night Football at Ford Field.
Stafford saw action early as DeMarcus Ware got a sack in on the first Lions drive, the first of two that Stafford would take in his regular beatings of the first half. A surefire pass to Golden Tate found its way into Bradley Roby's hands to set up the Broncos at the Lions 40.
From there the game proceeded to devolve into a series of punts as two offenses struggled to put together a scoring drive. The Lions would call timeout to stop what appeared to be a 60-yard field goal attempt by the Broncos, which turned into a punt after that. Finally, after a 12 play drive that ate up six and a half minutes of clock, Ronnie Hillman punched in a one-yard rush for a touchdown, giving Denver its first score.
With the ball back in Detroit hands, Stafford threw deep to Calvin Johnson, and by all measures, it should have been intercepted by Aqib Talib. Instead, Megatron did Megatron things.
Calvin Johnson is washed up: pic.twitter.com/nc6m2sVmyv— OHB (@ohholybutt) September 28, 2015
After that, the Lions figured feeding Johnson was the correct course of action, which would get the Lions to the two-yard line with first-and-goal. Joique Bell got the ball and leapt over the piling linemen, stretching out to put the ball over the plane for the touchdown. Prater's point-after would be blocked, and Eric Ebron saved the Lions from the ignominy of being the first NFL team to allow a blocked PAT to be returned under the new NFL rules. Unfortunately, Ebron would be hurt on the play, but return later.
With Denver getting the ball back with little over a minute remaining in the half, it would appear as if the offense looked to set up for a field goal and go into the locker rooms, getting the ball back after the half. Instead, Peyton Manning, on fourth-and-one, found Demaryius Thomas deep, who beat Darius Slay, spun back, grabbed the ball, and waltzed into the endzone. Denver entered the locker room up 14-6.
On third and five with the ball to open the half, Peyton Manning threw a pass to Demaryius Thomas, who proceeded to throw it backwards as he was tackled, never hitting the turf. Quandre Diggs recovered, but his touchdown would be wiped out as the whistle had already come in on the initial ruling of down.
Whoops! pic.twitter.com/NlH4hMBuiP— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) September 28, 2015
The Lions got their score anyway. As the Lions saw pressure in the redzone, Stafford dumped it off to Ameer Abdullah, who rushed up the middle to find paydirt. He was, however, not on the field for the ensuing two-point conversion: that would go to Joique Bell, who would be stopped short of the endzone in a run up the gut.
The Broncos and Lions would continue to jockey for field position until the end of the third quarter. Devin Taylor recorded a sack on Peyton Manning to put the Broncos back in their own territory before kicking it away. Now, Ford Field was loud, the crowd finally vibrating in mean howling ways.
Stafford would get his arm snagged up and the whole mess would be called a fumble. But the Broncos failed to capitalize, going for a field goal - at first Brandon McManus missed from 54 yards, but somehow the Lions lined up in an illegal formation, and on the retry from 48 yards, McManus put it through.
The game was ticking down. Stafford put together a drive, finding Ebron for 29 yards, and then... a tipped ball into the hands of David Burton, Jr. With the ball back, Peyton Manning went deep and Darius Slay lost on a jump ball to Emmanuel Sanders. With two-and-a-half minutes remaining, Manning found Owen Daniels and gave Denver a two-score lead.
With that, Honolulu blue was headed for the exits.
Final Score: Broncos 24-12
The run game just couldn't find a way to get off the ground; Bell was ineffective and Abdullah was touch and go. Ezekiel Ansah found a way to shine bright on the defense, but groin injuries would put him out of the game. Calvin Johnson managed to make a hard night for Aqib Talib, although it wouldn't be enough. Once again, the tackles failed to secure the edges and let all sorts of pressure get to Stafford; I'm pretty sure Von Miller tried to eat LaAdrian Waddle at one point. Brandon Pettigrew got into a nice conversation with a fan. The Lions would make some baffling errors and leave points that could have swung the game. Jeff Triplette was, as always, a fascinating spectacle of officiating.
Should get unlimited challenges in a Triplette game.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) September 28, 2015
Even bad officiating wasn't saving the Lions from their mistakes. Plenty of ways were found by Detroit to leave points on the field and give the Broncos additional chances. Stafford, for one, brought two interceptions to the picnic. Fans will undoubtedly blame Joe Lombardi, but plenty of blame was there to go around on the offense; particularly, of course, the line. Seventeen penalties were called on the Lions. This one was bad; a chance to avoid starting with three losses and the Lions missed.
Next up is the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.