A high-powered offense against a defense that has been oft-misaligned as the Lions sought to win seven out of their last eight. Could they shut down Drew Brees and keep pace in the NFC North?
The Saints received the ball but would go nowhere quick; a bad snap plus intentional grounding put them on fourth down from their own goal line, and they punted to the halfpoint of the field. The first Lions play from scrimmage was a pitch out to Golden Tate for about nine yards. After moving the chains, the Saints were close to sacking Stafford, but he managed to escape and found Dwayne Washington on the dump-off pass who picked up a first down. On the next play, Roberts picked up more chunk yards. Stafford made a screen pass out to TJ Jones, but the ball bounced off his fingers and was nearly picked off by a Saints defender; mercifully, it landed on the turf. Stafford eluded another sack and got his wheels going to make the play third-and-manageable inside the red zone, but the rushing attempt by Theo Riddick would be stuffed and Detroit settled for a field goal.
With seven minutes shaven off the first quarter, the Saints got their shot to respond. Coby Fleener picked up a quick 10+ yards on the first play, while Ingram pushed the ball forward on the next two attempts. However, he would come up hobbled and walked over to see the trainers, and his replacement, Tim Hightower, failed to get the first down. The Saints attempted to get the Lions to jump offsides with a hard count; Detroit didn’t fall for it and the Saints punted again.
The Lions had a long field this time, but Dwayne Washington kept the momentum going. A false start on third down by Graham Glasgow threatened the drive early, but from 11 yards out, Stafford found Eric Ebron on a rope for the first down. Washington kept the ball moving until the end of the first quarter. The Lions decided it was time to take a shot down the field, and Stafford found Tate, who overpowered the Saints defender on him and hauled in a pass to put the Lions in the red zone. Anquan Boldin hauled in the next pass and would have had a touchdown with just a couple more inches. The Lions would not be denied and Stafford found Riddick wide open on the very next play as Detroit took a 10-0 lead.
The Lions and Saints traded punts after that, including a scary moment when Ebron went down, although he would reenter the game on the next play. Ingram rejoined the Saints as they started from the 50-yard line after a 25-yard punt return. His presence would be felt immediately as he found a 22-yard run to put the Saints in striking range, but Brees continued to struggle to get the ball out; with a holding call, the Saints faced third-and-long and a screen pass to Michael Thomas went nowhere. A wretched-looking kick managed to get through the uprights and the Saints were on the board.
The Lions got the ball back and immediately got to grounding out clock. Over 12 plays they pounded out four minutes of time off the clock to continue their possession dominance, and Eric Ebron caught four-straight passes from Stafford to move the Lions down the field. A blown assignment on the offensive line saw a Saints defender get through to Stafford on third down in the red zone, and Prater kicked a field goal in place of seven.
The Saints had about a minute to play with and Drew Brees finally decided to take a shot deep to Brandon Cooks, who picked up 34 yards. The Saints were looking for the end zone and Brees found Coby Fleener, but Glover Quin and Rafael Bush managed to knock the pass out as the clock reached five seconds. The Saints settled on a field goal to cut Detroit’s lead to 13-6 at the end of the half.
The Lions got the ball to start the half and Anquan Boldin caught the first pass from scrimmage for 9 yards. Golden Tate took the next one as the Saints bit to stop a run, and the Lions were quickly around midfield. However, Dwayne Washington went down on his first carry and limped off the field with help from the trainers. The Lions’ drive was faltering, but on third down Stafford found TJ Jones for 34 yards to flip the script. Unfortunately it wouldn’t go much further, and points were left on the field again as the Lions kicked their third field goal.
The Saints had a chance to answer and put it within a field goal. A long shot from Brees to Brandin Cooks nearly got home, but Glover Quin made a crucial play to knock it away. A drop by Coby Fleener looked to seal the drive, but offsetting penalties gave the Saints another shot, and a failure to put pressure on Brees saw a conversion on a checkdown pass. However, Brees went for Cooks one more time on the sideline and Quin was there again, this time with a pick to snuff out the Saints drive.
Stafford tried to answer with a deep bomb to Andre Roberts, but it was just underthrown and Roberts couldn’t come up with it. The Lions nevertheless marched down the field in thanks part to Boldin, who remained clutch on third down. However the red zone troubles would continue, and the Lions left with a fourth field goal and more lost points.
The Saints immediately made the Lions pay as Fleener hauled in a pass, followed by a catch by Michael Thomas, as New Orleans were inside the Lions’ 30 within two plays. Three plays later, Brees took another shot to Cooks, who was down just short of the end zone, although Sean Peyton would spend a second challenge attempting to get it overturned. On the next play, Kuhn put it in for the Saints and the Lions lead was trimmed to six points.
Riddick put the moves on for the Lions early, first going up the middle and then making moves on third down to pick up the first. But Stafford got in trouble as his pass to Tate on fell off the mark and his second attempt was batted up and nearly picked off. However, the answer would come in the form of Golden Tate and Stafford rolled out from the pocket and heaved it up as he was hit. Tate, wide open, cut across the field away from the Saints defenders and took it to the house, 66 yards for the touchdown. Although the two-point conversion fell short, the Lions had grabbed a two-score lead again.
The Saints grabbed two first downs but a knocked down pass on third down by Big Play Slay got the Saints shanking a punt, and the Lions were back on the roll from their own 46 yard line. To burn clock, they handed it off to Zach Zenner, who made power runs inside that punished the Saints line repeatedly as they failed to stop him from gaining yardage. A false start by Ebron put them back on second down and they would fail to convert, but Prater nailed a 51-yard field goal to give the Lions a 15-point lead with seven minutes to play.
The Saints got started slow as Devin Taylor finally notched a Lions sack on Drew Brees, but Brees found Coby Fleener deep to avoid the third down stop. But as the Saints entered Lions territory, Brees’ pass would get picked off again as Tavon Wilson leapt in front of his target. With five minutes to go, things were looking good for the Lions.
The Lions got to work grinding out minutes, burning up 2:40 on the clock and punting it back to the Saints just north of the two-minute warning and went into prevent defense. New Orleans drove down the field and looked for a meaningless score as time expired, but rookie Miles Killebrew recorded the third pick of Brees on the day to end the game.