It only took two weeks for the Detroit Lions’ unofficial 2020 theme of “Dagger Time” to be endlessly mocked. After a complete fourth quarter meltdown against the Chicago Bears and getting blown out by the Packers in the second half, “Dagger Time” seemed to be only of the self-inflicted type.
But on Sunday, the Lions finally lived up to that mantra and won a game in a fourth quarter. They made plays—and good decisions—when they needed to. Good players stepped up, and the Lions even showed a little aggressiveness that all contributed to the team’s first win in 11 months.
Who knows if “Dagger Time” remains a thing for the rest of the 2020 season, but for one game, it looks like this team may be taking it seriously. Here are five late-game plays that sealed the 26-23 victory for the Lions over the Arizona Cardinals.
Play 1: Jack Fox pins the Cardinals deep
Down three with just over 12 minutes left, the Lions faced a fourth-and-6 play from the Cardinals 40 yard line. In a very un-dagger-like move, Detroit eventually decided to punt after trying to draw the Cardinals offsides on a field goal attempt.
However, that turned out to be the right move, but Lions punter Jack Fox—who has been as close to perfect as possible in three games—pinned the Cardinals at their own 2-yard line, giving Detroit a huge advantage in the field position game.
Huge props to gunner Tony McRae, who was initially knocked at the 11-yard line, for getting back up and snagging the ball before it bounced in the end zone.
Play 2: Lions force their first punt of the game
On the ensuing drive, the Lions not only needed to force a punt, they needed to force it right away to take advantage of Fox’s play.
They did exactly that. On third down, Romeo Okwara provided a nice pressure, nearly got a sack for a safety, then didn’t give up and forced a throw away from Kyler Murray. As a result, the Cardinals punted out of their own end zone, and Jamal Agnew’s solid punt return had them in better field position (Cardinals 36-yard line) than where they punted from a few plays earlier (45-yard line).
Play 3: Good coverage prevents long bomb from Kyler Murray
The Cardinals were at midfield with just over 5 minutes left in a tie game. Facing a third-and-9, Arizona went for it all on a risky play. Due to the Lions’ coverage units, however, it never stood a chance of being complete.
Amani Oruwariye and Will Harris had KeeSean Johnson completely bracketed. Not only did Detroit avoid a devastating play here, but they also forced the Cardinals’ second punt of the game.
Play 4: T.J. Hockenson draws a flag
It would have been just like the Lions to have a holding penalty ruin their comeback. Matthew Stafford had just connected with Marvin Hall on his best ball of the day for a 52-yard go-ahead touchdown. It was a beautiful play and everything we’ve missed about this offense. But a holding call negated the play, and every single Lions fans groaned, “Oh here we go again.”
We’ve seen plays like that demoralize the Lions before, leading to a spiraling of errors. But on the very next play, Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson blew by Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. The Arizona defender had no choice but to grab a fist-full of Hockenson’s jersey, drawing an easy pass interference penalty that got the Lions out of a tough second-and-15 hole.
Play 5: The coaching staff finally adopts Dagger Time
Let’s set the table. The Lions are on the Cardinals 38-yard line. It’s second-and-10 with 58 seconds left, and the Cardinals have one timeout remaining.
Here, the Lions could have very easily ran the ball two more times, ate up all but 10 seconds off the clock, and trotted out Matt Prater for a 50-to-56 yard field goal, depending on how many yards they get on those plays.
Even more likely, I thought, would be the Lions running on second down, forcing the Cardinals to use their last timeout. Then, on third down, they’d give Stafford a very easy, short completion to make to burn clock and pick up an extra few yards.
What I didn’t expect was the Lions coaching staff to throw on second down, dial up a play to Marvin Jones, and seal the damn game.
I’ve been really hard on Matt Patricia for his game management decisions since he arrived in Detroit. But credit where credit is due: He truly drove the dagger in on Sunday, and it resulted in the first win in almost a full calendar year.