Not all wins are easy, and this one certainly wasn’t. While the Detroit Lions led for most of the game, the New York Jets pushed them to the brink. A low-scoring affair ended with a stunning play to put the Lions on top and keep their playoff run a reality.
What takeaways can be had from this nail-biting victory?
No cakewalk win
For as hot as the Lions had been in the previous two months, this victory was arguably their toughest and closest. Had it not been for a near-miraculous Brock Wright touchdown on fourth down, the Lions would have been staring down a loss and likely a missed playoff opportunity. The offense looked lifeless for the better part of three-and-a-half quarters, but they came in clutch with the game on the line.
The Jets were an elite defense paired with a poor offense, and that was the story of the game. The Lions offense was smothered for most of the game, but they maintained a lead thanks to an equally lackluster Jets offense. If the Lions were going to win, it wasn’t going to be pretty.
It was a narrow victory for the Lions and an incredibly important one. Although the Lions have had multiple offensive outbursts of late, their previous wins have come against below-average defenses. The Jets offered a true test for the Lions offense. The Jets may or may not be a playoff team, but the Lions needed to demonstrate they could handle a stout defense. This win showcased some much-needed resilience. It would have been stellar if the Lions offense overcame the vaunted defense and continued its roll, but with the playoffs fast approaching, the win matters more, scoreboard be damned.
Safe football from Jared Goff
It was far from a fantastic performance from Jared Goff, but it also highlighted a key aspect of his improvement of late: he is protecting the football. Another week goes by without him throwing an interception, and despite some pedestrian numbers elsewhere, the lack of turnovers shines through. In a close-fought game like this, a single mistake could have doomed the team. Goff didn’t do that and it kept Detroit in the game.
The only QB to start each of the last 6 weeks and not have a single turnover— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) December 18, 2022
Jared Thomas Goff pic.twitter.com/dDEgSnAgH6
Looking at the Jets, meanwhile, Zach Wilson showed the risk and reward of his style of play. He had some nice downfield throws, but his errors directly led to a Jets loss. He threw an awful interception that led to a Lions field goal, and if it weren’t for Garrett Wilson, the Jets might never have taken the lead in the first place.
Best yet for Goff, he did not turtle when the pressure was on. You can credit Wright for the massive touchdown or blame the Jets defense for the gaffe, but Goff deserves a nod for that final drive. A Wright drop was an ominous start to the drive, but Goff bounced back with some nice passes to Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond. He didn’t dice up the secondary like in weeks past, but he moved the ball when he needed to. The Lions just couldn’t finish their drives. As a whole, the Jets defense wasn’t giving Goff much to work with, so some safe football was a relatively positive outcome.
Kalif Raymond has earned his money
There was some criticism levied at the Lions for re-signing Kalif Raymond to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this offseason. While he was coming off a career year in receiving yards, it was largely a byproduct of a horrific receiving corps around him—until St. Brown broke out, he was the best of a bad bunch. With DJ Chark and Jameson Williams added to the fold, could the Lions afford to pay a punt returner/WR4 (at best) that type of money?
Indeed they could.
Raymond has not had a 100-yard game this season (he had two in 2021), but his production has been solid given his role. Raymond added 53 yards to his season total working in the slot and out wide. Complimentary is the perfect way to describe Raymond, as he fills his role to a T. He won’t outmuscle defenders, but he can do some damage with his quickness and is good for a few clutch plays per game.
Equally important, especially against the Jets, has been his return ability. Raymond had quietly put together a great season as a punt returner, near the top of the league in return average. Raymond’s quiet season might no longer fly under the radar after today. Raymond notched what was just the third punt return touchdown of the year across the entire NFL, a touchdown that was the lone end zone trip by Detroit until late in the fourth quarter. Sure, the Lions would have been set up with good field position anyway, but given the Jets defense on the day, points were far from guaranteed.
Injury patience pays off, Romeo makes his mark
Throughout this season, the Lions have been patient with their injured players. I mentioned this last week with regard to Jameson Williams, DJ Chark, and Josh Reynolds. While those three players were quiet against the Jets, it was another once-injured player stepping up.
The timeline for Romeo Okwara’s return from an Achilles injury was a cause for concern for many. Whereas Jeff Okudah had returned to start the season from his injury, Okwara still lingered on injured reserve, and there were questions about whether he would return at all this season. And even if he returned, would he look like his former self?
Okwara had a quiet season debut last week against the Vikings, but Sunday’s game against the Jets was a return to form for the defensive end. Okwara had two sacks on the day, the final of which forced the Jets into a massive second-and-19 on their final drive. The Lions were bringing pressure throughout the day, a credit to the likes of Aidan Hutchinson, John Cominsky, and James Houston as well as Okwara. The Lions defensive line in general has improved of late, and if Okwara can build upon this game, the Lions could boast a solid line going forward.
Finally, it shows that the Lions are doing right by the players with regard to their recovery. I can’t speak for the training and medical staff of the Lions, but the fact that their injured players are rebounding nicely reflects well on their patience. There’s no need to rush an injured player back. The Lions are letting them get up to speed, and it’s working.