The Detroit Lions were always going to be fighting an uphill battle against the Denver Broncos. With six players from the 53-man roster placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, and a dozen others battling through the flu, Detroit had to abandon practice for nearly the entire week.
And with a depleated roster, the Lions just had little chance against a hungry Denver Broncos team eager to make strides in the playoffs and honor the former Bronco Demaryius Thomas, who passed away earlier this week.
The Lions were particularly snakebitten by slow starts to the half, as the Broncos jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. Detroit would work their way back to a 14-10 ballgame, but Denver scored 17 straight, while the Lions made mistake after mistake. The offense turned the ball over twice—and turned it over on downs twice—while the defense allowed nearly 200 rushing yards on the day.
The final score of 38-10 Broncos left Detroit with a 1-11-1 record on the year. Here’s how it happened.
The Broncos started the game with a touching tribute to former Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who passed away at age 33 this week. Denver a delay of game with only 10 players on the field on their first defensive snap to honor Thomas, and the Lions, of course, declined the penalty.
The Broncos got off to a hot start, methodically working their way down the field. Detroit nearly got a stop on a third-and-9, but Nickell Robey-Coleman was flagged for pass interference on a ball that may not have been catchable. Robey-Coleman was in the game because cornerback Jerry Jacobs suffered a bad knee injury and did not return. Four plays later, the Broncos punched it in for a 5-yard score. 7-0 Broncos
The Lions offense did not provide the counterpunch they were looking for. Jared Goff was sacked on third down, forcing a quick three-and-out.
Denver continued to pound the rock against the Lions’ beat up defense. Detroit suffered yet another key injury, with linebacker Alex Anzalone suffering a knee injury. He was declared questionable to return.
Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater took advantage by lobbing a pass over rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes’ head right into the hands of Noah Fant for a 32-yard gain. A handful of plays later, Melvin Gordon plowed it in from 1 yard out. 14-0 Broncos.
The second quarter started with the Lions attempting a third-and-8, which Goff picked up with a 13-yard scramble on free play. Craig Reynolds, who was promoted from the practice squad this week and started for Detroit, busted a 35-yard run a few plays later, the longest rush the Broncos allowed all season. Goff capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond on an impressively-designed play. 14-7 Broncos.
Bridgewater couldn’t muster a first down on the next drive after wide receiver Tim Patrick dropped a second down pass, and Bridgewater missed him on third down.
The Lions were able to muster a couple of first downs, including another nice 9-yard run from Reynolds—but they were stopped a yard short on a third-and-5 run. Head coach Dan Campbell opted to go for it, and the Lions converted with a quick out to Raymond for 9 yards. The drive stalled, however, when a third down pass was batted at the line. Rookie kicker Riley Patterson was good from 36 yards, cutting the lead to 14-10 Broncos.
Detroit’s defense would make another play to get off the field. Rookie nose tackle Alim McNeill—battling the flu earlier in the week—notched his first NFL sack, forcing a second-consecutive Broncos punt.
Out of the two-minute warning, the Lions faced a third-and-1 from their own 29-yard line. They converted with a nice run from Godwin Igwebuike, but Detroit couldn’t get anything going after that and punted with 1:16 remaining in the half.
Denver tried to add to their lead before halftime with all three timeouts in tow. The Lions did a good job limiting any big plays, but the Broncos were able to drive down inside the 40-yard line. An offsides penalty on a spike gave Denver 5 extra yards, and Brandon McManus was able to turn that into a successful 52-yard kick. 17-10 Broncos.
The Lions came out hoping to run the ball, and they did. Unfortunately, Igwebuike fumbled on the second offensive play of the half, and the Broncos recovered on Detroit’s 36-yard line.
Denver went back to running the ball on offense, and the Lions had little answers. Facing a third-and-6, Bridgewater caught the Lions on the blitz and dropped it off to rookie running back Javonte Williams for a 10-yard score, his second touchdown of the day. 24-10 Broncos.
The Lions’ next offensive drive was a disaster. Goff took a sack on first down. Igwebuike lost more yards on second down, giving the Lions a third-and-22. Detroit actually managed to pick up 20 yards on a third down pass to Josh Reynolds. Detroit decided to go for it deep in their own zone, and Goff’s pass was batted down for a turnover on downs.
It only took a few plays for the Broncos to cash in with a 15-yard run from Gordon, his second touchdown of the game. 31-10 Broncos.
The Lions decided to go for it again on fourth down in their territory—the third time in the game. For the second time, they converted. Detroit looked like they were about to hit the red zone, but a holding penalty on a third-and-1 erased a conversion, and a false start on Taylor Decker pushed them even further back.
The Lions faced a decision going into the fourth quarter: go for it on fourth-and-4 or try a long field goal.
Unsurprisingly, the Lions decided to go for it down 21 points. Goff connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown for the conversion and a 19-yard gain. With the Lions in a goal-to-go situation, the comedy of errors returned. First, Igwebuike fumbled, but his toe was barely out of bounds, saving the Lions a turnover. On second down, Goff was stepped on by Halapoulivaati Vaitai and immediately fell on his back. Goff’s next two passes fell incomplete, giving the Lions a turnover on downs after a 16-play drive that burned over eight minutes off the clock.
Detroit’s defense would get a quick three-and-out, and Goff would take over with good field position. But just as the Lions reached the red zone, Goff threw the ball behind tight end Brock Wright, and Broncos safety Justin Simmons made an impressive diving interception.
The Broncos would essentially run out most of the remaining eight minutes of the game, and cap it off with yet another touchdown to make the final score 38-10 Broncos.