The Detroit Lions hadn’t scored 20 points since the opening week of the season. Then, all of a sudden, the Lions exploded for 20 in the second quarter alone in Week 13’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Jared Goff was nearly perfect that quarter, while the Lions racked up 203 yards of offense and a two-score lead.
Of course, that didn’t hold, as Detroit looked more like themselves—that is, the bad version of themselves—in the second half. But a miracle two-minute drill for the win is something we didn’t think this team was capable of, and they came through in dramatic fashion.
Let’s take a closer look at the team’s performance with our Week 13 report card.
If I graded Jared Goff’s second quarter alone, he would’ve received an A+. In just that quarter, he was 11-of-13 for 167 yards and two touchdowns with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
In the other three quarters combined, Goff was exactly the Goff we’ve come to know over the past 11 games: 14-of-28 for 129 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 60.0 passer rating. And, of course, almost all of that production came on the game-winning drive at the end of the game. His interception came at the worst time possible, and Goff missed an absolutely wide-open Amon-Ra St. Brown on the play.
But Goff was electric in that second quarter. He was aggressive, he was accurate, and he was unafraid to fit balls into tight windows. I have no idea where that came from or where it went after halftime, but it was certainly nice to see.
And while the game-winning drive was mostly Goff taking what the defense gave him, you have to give the guy credit for not forcing anything, and making the big-time game winning throw.
Running backs: C
Due to my own cursing, Jamaal Williams fumbled for the first time in his NFL career, although thankfully the Lions hopped on top of it.
Otherwise, it was a pretty ho-hum day from the Lions’ tailbacks without D’Andre Swift. Detroit only averaged 3.7 yards per carry on the day, but we have to give a shout out to Godwin Igwebuike, who had maybe the most crucial play on the Lions’ game-winning drive outside of the actual game-winning play.
Facing a third-and-10, Goff dumped it out to Igwebuike over the middle of the field. He could’ve run north/south, gotten a 7-8 yards and set the Lions up for a fourth-and-3 with the clock running. Instead, he cut outside, trusted his ridiculous speed, won the edge, picked up a first down and stopped the clock. Absolutely huge play.
Wide receivers: B+
Obviously, this was a breakout moment for rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who not only set a career high with 10 catches, but had the game-winner—his first NFL touchdown of his career.
Elsewhere, the Lions actually spread the ball somewhat well. Josh Reynolds had four catches for 69 yards. Kalif Raymond had two for 33. Even KhaDarel Hodge had a 9-yard grab on the game-winning drive.
All season, we’ve see just one or two receivers contribute to the offense. This may have been the first game in which the entire receiving corps had a hand in the offense’s success.
Tight ends: B+
Let’s get the bad out of the way: T.J. Hockenson had an atrocious drop that stalled an early drive. But Brock Wright got his first career touchdown. Hockenson made a couple of really impressive grabs, including one over the middle that drew illegal contact.
The Vikings were short a couple of their best linebackers and the Lions tight ends took full advantage with six catches, 77 yards and two touchdowns. Here’s one of them:
Offensive line: A-
The Lions threw the ball a lot in this game, which necessitated good offensive line play. That’s one of the things head coach Dan Campbell pointed out in his locker room celebration video.
“You don’t do what we had to do at the end of the game, where you’re throwing it that much, without your o-line protection,” Campbell said.
And he’s right. You wouldn’t know if from the box score (three sacks, seven QB hits), but the Lions’ pass protection was on point all game. Per PFF’s initial post-game grades, the Lions allowed just five pressures all game and earned an “elite” pass protection grade of 87.1.
There were a couple mistakes along the way, including a few miscommunications that led to unblocked defenders. But, overall, it was a great day from the offensive front.
Defensive line: C-
Charles Harris had another impressive game with 2.0 sacks and four quarterback hits. The interior defensive line also held up nicely, holding Minnesota to just 3.7 yards per carry. Detroit seemed especially stoute in the red zone, getting two stops on two-point conversion runs.
But, man, did this unit lose contain time after time after time. It seemed like the Vikings ran some version of a play-action bootleg every single drive, and it worked nearly every single time. It wasn’t a very disciplined day from the edge defenders.
Alex Anzalone had his weekly almost-interception of the game, and rookie Derrick Barnes had a couple of nice run stops, but that was kind of it from this unit. Detroit surprisingly played a lot of Josh Woods in this game—in fact, he got more snaps than Barnes—and it was clear the Lions were missing Jalen Reeves-Maybin in that spot on Sunday. Whether it was missed tackles or lack of discipline on the aforementioned play-action plays, the Lions’ linebacker unit didn’t have its best of days.
It wasn’t a particularly good day for Amani Oruwariye matched up against Justin Jefferson, who finished with 182 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Cousins finished with an extremely efficient day—8.5 yards per attempt, 75 percent completion rate and a 116.7 passer rating.
But we have to give some serious props to Jerry Jacobs, who continues to be the scrappiest player on this defense. Jacobs finished with a career-high seven tackles, two of which were behind the line of scrimmage. PFF credited him with five stops on the day, which is an insane number for a cornerback. He had some lapses in coverage, but he made so many other plays, it was easy to forgive.
Special teams: C+
I don’t know why the Lions even tried to kick to Nene Nwangwu, who is one of the best returners in the league right now, but after a 44-yard return, they thankfully stopped.
Still, this unit gets a slightly above average grade due to Riley Patterson going a perfect five-for-five on his kicks.
Let’s just jump right into the fourth-and-1 decision. Campbell’s decision to go for it from his own 28-yard line up two points with less than five minutes has drawn some serious criticism. I’m not here for it. It was backed up by analytics, and the Vikings offense was just rolling in the second half. They scored on four of their five second half possession. Last week, we saw the Lions punt the ball away with 8:30 left and never get it back. The Lions punt in that situation, there’s a good chance they never see the ball again. In fact, by giving the Vikings a short field, he almost ensured—at the very worst—the Lions offense would have a chance at redemption.
You can argue the play call was bad, and I won’t push back at that. However, we are using the power of hindsight here. What was the “right” play call? Detroit has been atrocious at fourth-and-1 this year. They failed on a QB sneak earlier in the game. Jamaal Williams tripped up on a fourth-and-1 earlier this year. They don’t have a reliable fourth-and-1 play, so if that’s your complaint with going for it, I understand. But I’d still rather see Campbell trust his team to gain a single yard over stopping a high-powered Vikings offense.
What I did not like in this game was Campbell’s timeout usage. He gave the Vikings a free timeout during their two-minute drill at the end of the first half because I guess he wanted the ball back and was feeling it. But with the Vikings two scores behind at that point, they weren’t about to phone in the rest of the half. Additionally, before the infamous fourth-down play, he burned another timeout. I understand taking your time to get the right call, but you have to know that if you don’t make it, that timeout is absolutely critical to your team’s success. Thankfully, it didn’t end up mattering, but it was certainly close.
Overall, though, you have to admire Campbell for his leadership during a tough week. It’s clear many players took the Oxford High School thing to heart, and it led to one of the most emotional wins we’ve seen from this franchise in at least five years. That means something.