It’s over. It’s finally over. The Detroit Lions are in the win column.
Months have led to this moment—sadly—but the pressure of being winless has been lifted. The Lions’ season is anything but saved, but that first big hurdle of the rebuild is gone. That locker room is surely ecstatic to get Dan Campbell his first win as a full-time head coach, and to do so in walk-off fashion is incredible.
What takeaways can be had from the Lions’ victory over the Vikings?
Good things happen when you throw downfield
Jared Goff’s previous two games resulted in a mere 285 passing yards combined. With D’Andre Swift out with injury, maybe that sparked something in the offense: throw the ball downfield.
Goff still had his fair share of dump-off passes, but the Lions came out throwing in the second quarter. T.J. Hockenson had a 25-yarder. Josh Reynolds had a 28-yarder. Kalif Raymond had a 24-yarder. To top it off, Brock Wright’s first touchdown came on a beautiful 23-yard snag.
Things slowed down in the second half—I’ll get to that—but Jared Goff finally looked unafraid to throw the ball deep. Amon-Ra St. Brown had 10 catches for 86 yards and a game-winning touchdown, which happened to be his first touchdown as a pro. For all the success the Lions have had on the ground in recent weeks, it was clear that a competent passing game was needed to win.
The Lions offense is far from fixed, but hopefully the team learns from this victory and continues to be aggressive with their passing.
Re-sign Charles Harris
Some were disappointed with Brad Holmes in free agency, but it made sense for a rebuilding franchise. Aside from the Romeo Okwara re-signing, the Lions barely shelled out for free agents. Instead, the Lions opted for the low-risk approach by signing reclamation projects. It didn’t work out with Tyrell Williams or Breshad Perriman, and the results have been mixed with Alex Anzalone, but the Charles Harris signing has proven to be fantastic.
Signed to a modest one-year, $1.75 million deal, Harris was largely viewed as a rotation depth piece and a guy fighting with Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant for a roster spot. Unfortunately for the Lions, Romeo Okwara suffered a season-ending injury early on. Fortunately for the Lions, Charles Harris has stepped up.
Harris leads the team in sacks, including adding two today against the Vikings. One of those even resulted in a fumble, which set up a Lions touchdown drive. Given the injuries to expected starters Okwara and Trey Flowers, Harris has been the team’s best pass rusher. He’s no T.J. Watt, but the former first round pick has found a new home and a new role with the Detroit Lions. Sure, the Vikings had a banged-up offensive line, but that shouldn’t detract heavily from Harris’s performance.
With Flowers a likely cut candidate due to his contract, Harris could—and should—be re-signed this offseason. Even if the Lions draft Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson in the upcoming draft, Harris would be an important piece of this rebuilding defense. Having a player like him in their edge rotation is an asset. The question, of course, is how much it will cost in free agency. There’s a chance another team shells out for Harris, and I wouldn’t break the bank for him.
Riley Patterson, kicker of the future?
The Lions had some critics for moving on from Matt Prater this offseason, and those critics only got louder as the kicker carousel in Detroit ramped up. Randy Bullock, Matthew Wright, and Zane Gonzalez couldn’t win the kicking spot in training camp. Austin Seibert was claimed off waivers, but suffered an injury. Ryan Santoso struggled in relief. Even Aldrick Rosas was added to the mix. Their most recent kicker has been Riley Patterson, and he might be the one to end this shuffle.
An undrafted rookie, he signed with the Minnesota Vikings before getting waived due to an injury. He later joined the New England Patriots practice squad, although he was never promoted. The Lions added Patterson to their active roster, and he has yet to miss a kick. His first game resulted in just two extra-point attempts, but he got some revenge against the Vikings today. He was three-for-three on field goals to go with two extra-points.
It’s still early on, but Patterson seems promising. The Lions hit gold with Jack Fox, so maybe Patterson will turn into another solid UDFA special teamer.
And the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series goes to... the Detroit Lions
A good comedy show has plenty of laughs, but also enough moments to tug at your heartstrings. The 2021 Detroit Lions fit the bill.
The Lions put together their best quarter of the season. They scored 20 points—a monstrous total by their standards—in the second quarter, and the team actually looked well-rounded. The Vikings were held to zero points in that quarter as well. This was the Lions football we were hoping for.
Then it wasn’t.
Not only did the offense fall silent in the second half, they imploded down the stretch. Jared Goff was intercepted on third-and-4, missing a completely wide-open Amon-Ra St. Brown. Later, with a fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory, the Lions opted to go for it. The analytics backed up the decision, but the Lions did not. Instead, the Lions accomplished... whatever this was:
But just like a good comedy show, there is some drama to be had amidst the laughs.
Despite the Vikings notching a touchdown to take the lead, the Lions weren’t out of it. The offense, largely ineffective following halftime, had one more shot. A game-winning drive was in the cards. Could Jared Goff and company rally to get Detroit’s first win?
Spoiler alert: yes.
Indeed, you love to see it.
This season has had so many unbelievable moments. They lost on a record-setting field goal. They’ve been blown out. They had a tie. They lost thanks to back-to-back timeouts. After weeks of agony and laughter at the misfortunes of the Lions, Dan Campbell and his team got their first win.
And it feels good. So good.