No one gave the Detroit Lions much of a chance against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The Lions had one win, a bunch of players still on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and were only motivated to play spoiler. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were in the midst of a tight NFC West battle, coming off a tough divisional race, and were undefeated on the road this year.
But from the very beginning of the game, the Lions absolutely took it to the Cardinals. Detroit’s offense ran the ball efficiently, as Craig Reynolds eclipsed 100 yards. Jared Goff had his best game of the season, eclipsing 200 yards and finding the end zone three times.
Perhaps most impressively, the Lions defense played with their hair on fire. The Cardinals didn’t find the end zone until the final five minutes of the game, as Detroit was particularly stout in the red zone, despite a injury-riddled roster on defense.
The Lions’ win does push them out of the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, as the Jaguars—at 2-12—are now worse than Detroit’s 2-11-1 record.
But who cares? LIONS WIN, BABY!
Here’s how it happened.
The Cardinals won the toss and deferred, giving the Lions offense an opportunity to take the early lead. That’s exactly what the Lions ended up doing with a long, methodical drive. Converting on two of three third downs, the Lions racked up 68 yards on 15 plays, bleeding nearly nine minutes off the clock. However, the drive stalled in the red zone and Riley Patterson kicked a 37-yard chip shot through the uprights for a 3-0 Lions lead.
The Lions—as we predicted on our podcast this week—tried to pull from their bag of tricks, kicking a surprise onside kick. The Cardinals were ready for it, though, and Arizona recovered on the Lions’ 41-yard line. However, Detroit got a quick three-and-out stop, forcing the Cardinals to punt.
Detroit continued to play keep away from the Cardinals defense with more running. Craig Reynolds, who made his first career start, had 52 yards by the end of the first quarter. He gave the Lions a big 22-yard chunk play on a third-and-5 that moved the Lions into Cardinals territory before the end of the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Lions pulled a play action on a second-and-4, and Jared Goff dropped a perfect pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 37-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Lions lead.
The Lions defense would keep the good times rolling with another three-and-out stop. Charles Harris was able to get to Kyler Murray on third down to force the Cardinals’ second punt of the day.
The Lions offense was stopped for their first time, and it was a self-inflicted wound. Head coach Dan Campbell opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from midfield. Detroit hurried to the line with a quick toss that looked like it was going to work, but tight end Brock Wright was called for a false start. Although, it’s worth pointing out that it did not look like anyone had jumped:
Maybe Wright wasn't set? Idk pic.twitter.com/Px55WI5OD3— Logan Lamorandier (@LLamorandier) December 19, 2021
The Lions then punted.
It looked like the Cardinals offense may get going again after Murray completed passes of 14 and 13 yards. However, Harris picked up his second sack of the game on a critical third-and-3, pushing the Cardinals back to their side of the field and forcing yet another punt. But Detroit’s offense only went in reverse after a false start and a negative running play. The Lions punted the ball back, and a decent return set the Cardinals up at the 39-yard line.
Murray went up-tempo to get the Lions defense off-balance and it worked. He was able to drive the Cardinals into a first-and-goal situation from the 5-yard line. However, Detroit’s defense made some big plays. Amani Oruwariye knocked a third-down attempt away, and after the Cardinals tried to go for it on fourth down, rookie corner AJ Parker knocked down the pass attempt, giving the ball back to the Lions.
Detroit would take over at their own 3-yard line at the two-minute warning. A 15-yard pass to Josh Reynolds and a roughing the passer penalty got the Lions out of their own end zone. Another roughing penalty pushed Detroit into Cardinals territory, but took Jared Goff out of the game for a play. He returned, despite hobbling off, after missing just a single play.
After a clutch fourth-and-1 pickup, Gof laid another perfect ball, this time to Reynolds for a 22-yard score. 17-0 Lions.
The Cardinals offense started the second half with an explosive play from James Connor, who broke several tackles on the way to a 22-yard gain. A few plays later Chase Edmonds ran for 23 yards. But Detroit’s defense stiffened up in the red zone with another big stop from Charles Harris. Still, Arizona got on the board with a 29-yard field goal from Matt Prater, who was thoroughly booed in his return to Ford Field. 17-3 Lions.
The Lions offense looked to be rolling again, but just like last week, Godwin Igwebuike fumbled on the first offensive possession of the second half, giving the Cardinals the ball at their own 44-yard line.
But Amani Oruwariye gave the Lions the ball back with this ridiculous interception and return.
Detroit wasted no time, as they pulled off a perfect play action pass to fullback Jason Cabinda for the touchdown. 24-3 Lions.
The Cardinals again went into no-huddle mode and Murray connected with A.J. Green on big gains of 19 and 27 yards, including this ridiculous pickup on third-and-9.
But thanks to another Charles Harris sack on a botched snap, the Lions got another red zone stop, and the Cardinals were forced to kick another field goal. 24-6 Lions.
The Lions offense continued to move the ball, specifically with Craig Reynolds. The young running back had a nice spin move that picked up 8 yards, getting the Lions to the Cardinals 31-yard line as the clock moved over to the fourth quarter.
A holding penalty set the Lions back in the downs, but a 10-yard pass to St. Brown got them back in field goal range and Riley Patterson knocked it through from 47 yards. 27-6 Lions.
The Cardinals were again able to drive into Lions territory, but, again, the Lions defense held up strong. Murray went deep on a fourth-and-6 attempt and the Cardinals receiver Antoine Wesley just barely came down out of bounds.
The Lions offense picked up a first down and successfully ran nearly four minutes off the clock, but eventually had to punt the ball back to Arizona, up 21 points with 7:48 left in the game.
Arizona would dink and dunk their way down the middle of the field, as the Lions gladly allowed the Cardinals to eat up over three minutes of game clock. But the Cardinals would finally find the end zone with a 26-yard pass to Christian Kirk. Arizona would not convert a bold two-point attempt. 27-12 Lions.
The Lions recovered an onside kick attempt from the Cardinals, meaning they had the ball, up 15, with 4:39 left. The Lions would get into field goal position after a pass interference penalty, and Patterson would continue his perfect season with a 45-yard dagger. 30-12 Lions.