After the Detroit Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter, I don’t think there was a single fan in Detroit that thought the game was over. For the past three years, fans have been conditioned to believe no early-game lead—no matter how big—was safe. In 2020 alone, the Lions have held a two-score lead in three of their previous four games. All three of those games turned out to be losses. It had gotten so bad that you have to wonder if the players were starting to get conditioned to it, as well.
And there were moments on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars that undoubtedly had that same feeling. Those “Uh oh, here we go again” moments. But at every potential pivotal moment, the Lions responded and prevented one mistake from snowballing into a bigger one.
Take, for example, the Lions’ missed 57-yard field goal attempt. Up just 14-3 at the time, the Lions handed Jacksonville prime field position. To make matters worse, on the second play of the Jaguars’ ensuing possession, Jayron Kearse committed a bad personal foul penalty, setting the Jags up in field goal position almost immediately. From there, though, the Lions defense held strong, forcing a field goal attempt from Jon Brown... which he subsequently missed.
The next moment Detroit was mentally tested was at the start of the second half. Detroit was in a perfect position to make a statement and control the game. Already up 17-3, the Lions got the ball first. But the first possession was a disaster. The Lions kicked the drive off with run-run-pass, and it seemed like the Lions were heading into their conservative crater. But it was even worse than that: Stafford’s third-and-10 pass was deflected and intercepted, giving Jacksonville the ball at Detroit’s 20-yard line.
But Detroit’s defense was up to the task. They held the Jaguars to a four-and-out, capped by a nice pass breakup from Amani Oruwariye to force a turnover on downs. No harm, no foul, and subsequently, no second-half collapse.
The very next drive, the Lions went aggro. Seven passes to just two run plays. A deep shot to Kenny Golladay netted the Lions 48 yards, and just when it looked like the Lions were going to settle for three to push the score to just 20-3 after 35 minutes of dominant play, Matt Patricia decided to go for it. A 1-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson made it a 21-point game.
Even then, I doubt Lions fans were breathing easy, because on the very next possession, the Jaguars went 74 yards in just 4:13 to bring the score back to 24-10 with plenty of time left in the game.
But, again, the Lions didn’t allow the momentum to swing. Detroit responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive of their own. Again, their aggressiveness was both uncharacteristic and effective. On the five first downs of the drive, the Lions opted to pass on three of them—all of which were complete. With the score now 31-10 now into the fourth quarter, things actually felt safe for the first time in a long time. A quick three-and-out forced by the Lions defense on the next drive essentially sealed the game.
All of this is to say the Lions figured out how to actually hold a lead on Sunday. They made mistakes, but they made sure those problems didn’t compound into something bigger. And when faced with the option to play conservative and safe, the Lions opted to take a different route, until the game was well out of reach.
Does that mean they’ve now fixed all their issues and never blow a two-score game? Of course not. That’s not how the NFL works. Each and every week you have to prove yourself and continue to adjust. But for one week, it felt damn good waiting for the other shoe to drop only for that disappointment to never arrive.