Ford Field was rocking on Saturday night, and so were the Detroit Lions.
The Lions secured themselves a much-needed victory against the Denver Broncos. Shaking off the demons of a disappointing loss to the Chicago Bears, the Lions thrashed the Broncos in a 42-17 affair. Now sitting at 10-4, they are in prime position to win the division and secure themselves a playoff spot—something that could happen this very week.
Let’s examine some takeaways.
Offense returns to form
This was just what the offense needed. After a string of tough outings for the offense, they needed a rebound against a rising Broncos defense. Thankfully, everyone delivered.
Jared Goff tied a career-best five touchdown passes, regaining the composure he lacked of late. Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery ran wild over the Broncos run defense, with Gibbs topping 100 yards to bring him over 1,000 all-purpose yards this season. Amon-Ra St. Brown eclipsed 100 yards after an abnormally down game against the Bears. Rookie tight end phenom Sam LaPorta had a hat trick of touchdowns, putting himself into the history books with one of the best rookie tight end seasons ever.
After taking criticism for their struggles against the Bears and Green Bay Packers, the Lions delivered when it mattered. Now the Lions are on the doorstep of the elusive NFC North crown.
A healthy offensive line is a beautiful thing
What a difference having your starting five linemen makes. A lot of the offensive struggles of late can be attributed to the injuries up front, hampering the run game and making it difficult for Jared Goff to operate.
Now fully healthy, Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, and Penei Sewell were walls against the Broncos. It’s no surprise that the Lions dropped 42 points on the Broncos, since a healthy offensive line facilitated the electric Lions offense we know and love. Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery each topped 80 rushing yards, with Gibbs adding a score. Goff looked far more comfortable, resulting in a passing attack that overwhelmed the Broncos defense.
Health up front will undoubtedly be a factor determining how far the Lions go in the playoffs. These five players should be joint Most Valuable Players.
Nothing Iffy about Melifonwu’s play
Ifeatu Melifonwu got the surprise nod over starting safety Tracy Walker last week against the Chicago Bears, and he was one of the few highlights on the day. He answered the call yet again against the Broncos with perhaps the best game of his career. The corner-turned-safety had a phenomenal first half, racking up six tackles, a strip sack, and a tackle for loss. He was very active up front and demonstrated some much-needed pursuit on the elusive Russell Wilson.
In the second half, he nearly had a pass breakup on Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s touchdown, a borderline call that very well could have been ruled incomplete. There was no doubt about his pass breakup on Lucas Krull, however, batting away a deep shot to the tight end. Melifonwu finished the night with a stellar stat line:
Iffy was making plays EVERYWHERE tonight pic.twitter.com/puixzZpvaF— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 17, 2023
Missing C.J. Gardner-Johnson for a majority of the season, the burden fell on Walker and Kerby Joseph, but both players have had down 2023 campaigns. The Lions badly needed a player like Melifonwu step up amid a fairly weak secondary.
Defense pays dividends
Speaking of the secondary, how about this defense? The offensive struggles were oft-discussed over the last month, and they sadly overshadowed a defense that was playing surprisingly well. Against the Broncos, the Lions finally got both units clicking at once.
As already mentioned, Melifonwu was the star of the night, but the cast around him impressed too. Cam Sutton was great in coverage. Khalil Dorsey and Kindle Vildor were surprisingly effective operating as the next cornerbacks; Jerry Jacobs was demoted to start the game, and he suffered a game-ending injury. Brian Branch has been a force as a rookie slot corner and delivered some crucial hits. The pass rush finished with just two sacks, but pressure was present throughout most of the night. Josh Paschal in particular deserves praise for notching a sack in perhaps the best performance of his career. The run defense, despite missing Alim McNeill, shined against the Broncos, limiting them to just a 3-yard average.
The Lions have, without question, had some poor defensive outings this season. Tonight’s game was not one of them, and could be a sign of good things to come.
Jamo finally becomes a focal point
Getting Jameson Williams more involved on offense was a talking point of late, and it seems like offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is listening. Williams set a career-high in targets (seven) and receptions (four). While he lacked the home run play—he came awfully close, but safety Justin Simmons made a stellar breakup—the Lions were using him like the diverse weapon he can be. He isn’t just a deep shot specialist, he can make intermediate and tough catches.
No turd quarter!
The Broncos may have scored 10 of their 17 points in the third quarter, but by Detroit’s standards, it was a monumental success. The Lions scored a touchdown and avoided faceplanting. That was crucial towards keeping their 21-0 halftime lead, as the third quarter had been their doom in recent weeks. It was not stellar, but it is progress.
Dan Campbell and Sean Payton: the student is now the master
This game was won and lost by head coaches. Dan Campbell, once under the tutelage of Sean Payton, outcoached the Broncos head coach. The Lions were a well-oiled machine on Saturday and fairly mistake-free.
The Broncos, meanwhile, collapsed as the game progressed, and Payton is a key reason why. With the score 28-7 late in the third quarter, the Broncos were knocking on the Lions’ door. Jaleel McLaughlin recorded an 8-yard catch down to the goal line, but it should have been nine yards and a touchdown. Yet Payton refused to challenge.
The very next play, Javonte Williams was stopped at the goal line, but upon replay it should have been a touchdown. Yet again, Payton refused to challenge.
On fourth down, fullback Michael Burton plunged forward for the touchdown, but a controversial-but-correct offsides call nullified the play. Payton exploded in fury on the sideline, and this must have translated to his play calling. Instead of going for the fourth down, they opted to kick a field goal that made it 28-10—still a three-score game.
Things would spiral from there. After the Lions scored to make it 35-10 (thank goodness for that field goal!), the Broncos opted to punt with 11 minutes remaining in the game. That’s the equivalent of the white flag, but the temper tantrum didn’t end there. On that same punt, Kalif Raymond was accidently hit by a Broncos special teamer, which turned into a minor brawl. The Broncos would add a late touchdown, but the game was already finished.
The Broncos had a lot going wrong on the night, but their coach was not the leader he should have been.
John’s Turning Point: Sam LaPorta’s touchdown in the second quarter
It might be surprising given the final score and stats, but the Lions offense was quite horrible early on. The Lions put up a zero in the first quarter, and Goff in particular looked unsettled.
It’s safe to say that disappeared soon into the second quarter, and you can thank Sam LaPorta:
In a rookie season full of impressive moments, this might be LaPorta’s best. LaPorta displayed incredible agility and burst on the play, turning what could have been 6-yard gain into six points. From this point onwards, the Lions offense was nearly unstoppable. Goff had to get the monkey off his back after some difficult performances, and LaPorta was just the playmaker he needed. The Lions never looked back.