Coming off their first playoff victory since 1991, the Detroit Lions returned to Ford Field on Sunday to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the chance to advance to the NFC Conference Championship game. Although the Bucs held off the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Bucs had to travel north and leave the warm state of Florida for Michigan on Sunday because the Lions were the higher seeded Wild Card week winner. It wasn’t cold inside Ford Field, though; the home crowd once again brought the noise and heat against the Bucs as they did against the Rams last week.
Unlike the previous matchup, there wasn’t much drama and hype heading into this game. You had some chirping by Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield and Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson early in the week, but there wasn’t as much attention on this game. The talk was about how the Lions beat the Rams the previous week and the Eagles collapsed to the Bucs. Without the drama, more talk about this game was about the stats, comparisons, and most importantly, football!
Check out my winners and losers in the NFC Divisional 31-23 win against the Bucs.
Last week, Goff had a solid game marred by one really bad play and this week was not very different. Outside of two poor throws, Goff had another stellar game for the Lions, going 30-for-43 for 287 yards and two touchdowns. Goff also had six carries for six yards as he used his legs a few times in the matchup.
Goff never backed down in this game when his squad was up against a wall. It was a 10-10 tie at the half and continued neck and neck for a while. Despite penalties, injuries, and poor execution on plays, Goff didn’t give up. He fought hard and made the types of throws you want to see in the biggest moments. Goff is headed towards a contract extension this offseason, and the price will keep going up with each playoff win. It’s well-deserved. He has helped lead this team to a place they have not been in a very long time, with a chance to appear in their first-ever Super Bowl if they can win next week.
Injured and still putting up numbers, Lions rookie tight end Sam LaPorta continues to impress and showcase his skill set in the NFL. He had a team-high nine catches for 65 yards as he made moves to get wide open and become a threat to the Bucs' defense. LaPorta is a big target and a monster that continues to get better and better. The Bucs defense held him to just 36 yards on four catches back in October, but this time he got the best of them.
LaPorta will have his work cut out for him next week, but he has a strong case to be considered the NFL Rookie of the Year. Even though that honor will most likely go to Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud, LaPorta is already a second-team All-Pro and will only get better from here.
Once again, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson stepped up when he was needed. Against the Bucs, Hutchinson finished with four tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss. Hutchinson didn’t get a sack the last time these two teams met, but this time in the big game, he made a big one to get a defensive stop. Hutchinson has been playing great the past seven games, getting nine sacks and being the player everyone wanted him to be.
Hutchinson came in second place in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting last year. If he continues to play like this into the 2024-2025 season, he could very well become a serious NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Coming up big in the fourth quarter was running back Jahmyr Gibbs, whose explosive plays had a big impact on this game. Gibbs wasn’t used much against the Rams, but against the Bucs, he was the main running back. Gibbs had nine carries for 74 yards and a touchdown, as well as four catches for 40 yards. Gibbs was electric in this game and had a chance at another big run in the first half if he wasn’t tripped up by a Bucs defender.
Gibbs has an argument for Rookie of the Year honors as well with how he has grown and played this season. While it took him a few weeks to become an impact player, he has been a focal point in the offense down the stretch. Gibbs is going to be a great running back in the NFL for years to come.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
The man that made the clutch first down to lock up the win against the Rams last week once again came up huge for the Lions in the fourth quarter this week. On 3rd-and-15 in the fourth quarter, Goff found St. Brown for a catch. Not only did St. Brown secure the crucial reception, he dragged defenders for the extra yard necessary to earn a first down and extend the drive. Later on that same drive, St. Brown caught a touchdown to put the Lions up 31-14 with under seven minutes to play.
St. Brown finished the game with eight catches for a team-high 77 yards and a touchdown. St. Brown has been an important member of this franchise since he was drafted back in 2021. He caught the game-winning touchdown in the first win for the team in 2021 and now he is catching touchdown passes in the playoffs to clinch a spot for his team in the NFC Championship game.
Entering the game, the Lions roster was almost full strength, as only wide receiver Kalif Raymond and EDGE James Houston were ruled inactive for the game due to injury. Raymond got injured back in Week 18 and hasn’t practiced the past two weeks, while Houston was activated off IR and moved up to the active roster earlier this week.
When the game started though, new injuries piled up. Left guard Jonah Jackson left the game with a knee injury and didn’t return. It wasn’t just him though as center Frank Ragnow left the game with an injury but would return. Backup tight end Brock Wright also left the field with a forearm injury. Whether or not they were able to return, injuries to two starting offensive linemen and an important blocking tight end isn’t good.
The Lions only have eight offensive linemen on the roster and three tight ends. The Lions already lost tight end James Mitchell and offensive guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai to IR and both aren’t returning this season. Detroit might need to make some roster moves if it looks like Jackson, Ragnow, or Wright could miss time next week. Playing a backup next week against the San Francisco 49ers is less than ideal; they will need their best out there for 60 minutes.
The past few weeks, the secondary has been tested heavily and part of the reason was poor play by cornerback Cameron Sutton. Sutton was brought to Detroit to be the top cornerback on this roster. While he had a fine first half of the season, this past month he has been getting beat up. He has had tough matchups, so it’s understandable why he has struggled. If you are brought in as the number one cornerback, though, you have to expect to face the best opponents have to offer.
Sutton was asked to cover Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans and Evans had a big game, getting eight catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. Evans had some drops in the game too, so he could have gotten even more yards and a two-point conversion. Sutton needs to figure out what is not working and get to work on fixing it or the terrific wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk on the 49ers will have a field day with him.