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Lions report card: Jared Goff, coaching fuel Detroit’s magical win vs. Rams

Jared Goff and a couple of key coaching decisions were the difference between the Detroit Lions winning or losing to the Los Angeles Rams.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions edged out the Los Angeles Rams for their first postseason win since the 1991 season. Detroit led for nearly the entire game, and although Matthew Stafford nearly led one of this patented comebacks, the Lions walked away winners for several reasons.

Let’s get into by handing out positional grades in our Wild Card Weekend report card.

Quarterback: A

What a night for Jared Goff. During a week he admittedly had to bury some emotions about facing his former team, Goff was cool as a cucumber. His final statline is one of an elite quarterback and far better than any other playoff performance of his career .

While Goff took some frustrating sacks in this game that ended drives—and an ill-advised lateral nearly cost them the football—he was otherwise outstanding. He was accurate, decisive, made excellent reads, and most importantly, when the game was on the line, he delivered the game-winning pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown. Quite simply: he went toe-to-toe with Matthew Stafford and beat him.

Running backs: C

It was a pretty rough day from Jahmyr Gibbs, who didn’t see the field particularly well and finished with just 3.1 yards per carry on eight rushes, but he made up some of it by making an impact in the receiving game (four catches, 43 yards).

David Montgomery, on the other hand, was effective running the ball, rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries (4.1). However, he missed badly on a blitz pickup that led to a third-down sack.

Overall, not the best day from this unit, but the bar is set high with this duo.

Wide receivers: A

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Jameson Williams combined for 14 catches on 18 attempts for 209 yards. Reynolds was dominant early in the game, while St. Brown cleaned up things nicely in the second half. Williams may not have given the Lions the big play they wanted, but both his catches were overall successes.

Tight ends: B

Sam LaPorta deserves a ton of credit for putting in the work to even get on the field this week. And he wasn’t that limited, either. He played 80 percent of the offensive snaps, which is just an incredible feat worth recognizing.

While he only caught three passes for 14 yards, one of those was a touchdown on a fourth down conversion.

Offensive line: A-

The box score may say that the Rams had three sacks and six QB hits, but pass protection was solid for almost the entire game. It’s not just that they were keeping Goff clean, but they were keeping him clean for several seconds, often allowing Goff to go through his full progression before finding someone open.

By the way, Aaron Donald finished with just three tackles, no sacks, no tackles for loss, and no QB hits .

I thought the blocking on running plays wasn’t too bad, either, but sometimes the backs put them in a tough spot (like on Frank Ragnow’s holding penalty). Overall, the Lions clearly won the trenches while on offense, and it’s a big reason they won the game.

Defensive line: B

Aidan Hutchinson elevates this entire group with an outstanding two sack, 5 QB hit performance against the Rams.

Getting four pressures against Robert Havenstein (in just 16 matchups) is no small feat for Hutchinson. Per PFF, he had allowed just three total pressure in three games and allowed one sack all season.

That said, there wasn’t a ton of help elsewhere. Alim McNeill and John Cominsky both pitched in a QB hit, but no defensive lineman outside of Hutchinson tallied a tackle for loss. Still, the run defense was enough to limit Kyren Williams to lowest rushing total since Week 5, making the Rams one-dimensional for most of the game.

Linebackers: C+

Linebackers, too, played a bit part in holding the Rams rushing attack in check. Alex Anzalone finished with a team-high eight tackles, including two tackles for loss. But the Lions linebackers struggled in coverage again, and Matthew Stafford picked them part over the middle of the field.

Secondary: D

Puka Nacua had the Lions secondary in a blender all game. Whether it was his third-and-15 conversion where he had Kindle Vildor beat by a couple steps, or his shimmy that absolutely destroyed Cameron Sutton for a 50-yard touchdown catch, it was a very rough day from the outside cornerbacks (again). Without a doubt, this is the team’s biggest need going into 2024.

Still, though, the Lions eventually won this game because a couple of big plays from the secondary. C.J. Gardner-Johnson had perfect coverage on Cooper Kupp to force the Rams to take a late field goal. And Sutton helped get the Lions off the field for the last time with tight, physical coverage on third-and-14.

For as good as Matthew Stafford was on Sunday, the Lions absolutely shut him down in the red zone. Inside the 20, Stafford completed just 2-of-7 passes for 7 yards.

Special teams: A+

Jack Fox was on an absolute tear on Sunday. All three of his punts pinned the Rams inside their own 20-yard line with an incredible net average of 49.3 yards per punt. Each team only returned a kick/punt once in the game, and neither return was noteworthy.

But kudos to Michael Badgley for a monster 54-yard field goal make that essentially was the game winner for Detroit.

Coaching: A

On a more basic level, kudos to Dan Campbell and company for coming out of the gates strong. This game had massive emotional stakes to it, and for a locker room as young and inexperiences in the postseason, they were clearly in the right headspace to compete.

Beyond that, I thought Dan Campbell straight outcoached Sean McVay when it came to game management. McVay made some questionable decisions, like forfeiting his possession at the end of the game, settling for a field goal with eight minutes left, and even punting back to Detroit with four minutes left and just a single timeout put the team in a tough spot.

Meanwhile, Campbell kept the Lions aggressive. He could have kicked the field goal on a fourth-and-2 from the Rams’ 3-yard line with Detroit already holding a lead, but he didn’t and it earned the Lions four extra points.

Campbell’s biggest decision came late in the game. The Rams committed a holding penalty on third down that gave Detroit two options: either decline the penalty, and leave the Rams to a fourth-and-4 from the Lions 34 yard-line—which could have resulted in a go-ahead 52-yard field goal attempt or a fourth down try—or accept the penalty, push them out of field goal range, and hope Stafford can’t convert a third-and-14. The Lions chose to accept, which felt a bit risky considering the defense’s performance all day, but the results speak for themselves. The Lions got a stop, the Rams punted, and Detroit ran out the rest of the clock.

Whether you agreed with the decision or not at the time, undoubtedly that huge coaching decision played a huge part in why they won. That’s all you can ask of game-day coaching.

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