The Detroit Lions are headed to the NFC Championship game!
The Lions held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off just long enough for the 31-23 victory in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Detroit’s offense came alive in the second half—thanks to a huge game from Jahmyr Gibbs—and the Lions defense came up with two key turnovers, including the game-sealer by linebacker Derrick Barnes.
Here’s how the entire game broke down:
The Lions won the toss and elected to receive the ball first. But their drive would quickly go three-and-out after Jared Goff third-and-3 pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Tampa was the first team to move the chains with a 16-yard run from Rachaad White. But after an Ifeatu Melifonwu sack pushed the Buccaneers to a third-and-long, a Baker Mayfield pass deflected high and was picked off by C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
Detroit made their way into the red zone quickly thanks to a 10-yard pass to Jameson Williams with a personal foul on the Buccaneers tacked on. Goff nearly threw a pick in the end zone, but it was dropped by the Buccaneers defender. The Lions tried to run on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, but after losing a yard on the play, they settled for a field goal. 3-0 Lions.
The Bucs took the ensuing drive to midfield after a third-and-2 conversion to Mike Evans for 18 yards. Mayfield followed it up with a 29-yard pass to Trey Palmer. A sack from Brian Branch set the Bucs back again behind the sticks.
On third-and-18, Tampa simply ran a draw to set up an easier field goal. Chase McLaughlin was good from 43 yards to tie it up with 4:19 left in the first quarter. 3-3 tie.
The Lions drove to midfield, but faced a third-and-4 as the time moved over into the second quarter.
Goff delivered a 13-yard strike to Sam LaPorta with pressure in his face to keep the drive alive. The Lions quarterback went right back to LaPorta for another 15 yards down inside the Bucs’ red zone. The Lions wouldn’t stall this time, as Goff found Josh Reynolds for the 7-yard touchdown and a 10-3 Lions lead.
The Bucs would quickly go three-and-out, giving the Lions the first opportunity to go up by two scores. But Detroit could only drive to midfield before three straight incompletions ended the drive. During the drive, left guard Jonah Jackson suffered an injury and went straight to the locker room. Kayode Awosika replaced him. Jackson would not return.
Tampa quickly picked up 23 with a comeback route to Mike Evans. The Bucs then converted a third-and-7 after Ifeatu Melifonwu missed a tackle on White. Tampa stalled on the Lions side of the field after a blitz forced an inaccurate throw from Mayfield. Tampa tried to tack on a 50-yard field goal, but the kick went off the left upright.
The Lions took over at their own 40-yard line with 2:24 left. But on a third-and-short, Goff was sacked. Detroit would have to punt right back to Tampa, giving the Bucs one more opportunity to cut in the Lions’ lead before halftime.
Tampa started the final drive of the half at their own 8-yard line with 1:28 left and all three timeouts in hand. The Buccaneers would quickly drive into field goal range, thanks largely to a 27-yard gain to Evans. Then Mayfield went right back to him for a 29-yard pass down to the 2-yard line.
On the next play, Mayfield found Cade Otton for the tie. 10-10 tie.
Tampa opened the second half, but couldn’t take the lead. The Buccaneers surprisingly continued to find success on the ground with White, who opened the series with rushes of 5 and 14 yards. But on third-and-4 from the Lions’ 39-yard line, Aidan Hutchinson sacked Mayfield.
The Lions quickly went three-and-out after a chop block penalty erased a big play and a third-down conversion. Despite having good field position, Tampa went three-and-out right back at Detroit. Brian Branch had a nice tackle for loss on first down, and Kerby Joseph had a well-timed pass breakup.
With 8:11 left in the third quarter, the Lions offense started back at their own 36-yard line. On a third-and-1 play, Detroit hit tight end Brock Wright with a play that looked a lot like his game-winning touchdown against the New York Jets in 2022.
St. Brown moved the Lions to the Bucs’ 5-yard line with an 11-yard catch. A few plays later, they faced a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Of course, Dan Campbell opted to go for it, and Craig Reynolds punched it in. 17-10 Lions.
Mayfield led the Bucs right down the field on the next drive. He targeted Otton on three straight plays—for 9, 13, and 27 yards all the way into the red zone. On the ensuing third-and-10, the Bucs called a perfectly-timed screen that caught the Lions blitzing and White scampered in for a 12-yard touchdown. 17-17 tie.
The final quarter opened up with Goff hitting Gibbs for a 12-yard gain. Another 18 from Josh Reynolds moved Detroit into Bucs territory. Then Gibbs fired up the middle of the line and dashed for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Lions back the lead. 24-17 Lions.
Detroit’s defense answered the call with a quick three and out after Alex Anzalone tackled White 4 yards short of the sticks on third down.
The Lions looked to extend their lead, and their drive started with some promise. A 24-yard pass to Williams moved them quickly to midfield. After being sacked on the ensuing second down, Goff faced a third-and-16. That’s when he went to his favorite target, St. Brown, who picked up exactly 16 to move the chains.
Goff then went back to Gibbs, whose 20-yard catch-and-run put Detroit into field goal range. A few plays later, Goff lofted a perfect pass to St. Brown for a 9-yard touchdown and 31-17 Lions lead with 6:22 left in the game.
The Buccaneers desperately kept the game alive with a fourth-and-14 conversion to Evans for 24 yards. A couple more passes, including a 17-yard pass to Chris Godwin, quickly got them into the red zone. Mayfield eventually found Evans for a 16-yard touchdown with still 4:37 left.
Detroit got a critical two-point conversion stop to make it 31-23 Lions.
The Lions offense opened the next drive with a nifty screen pass to St. Brown for 15 yards. David Montgomery followed it up with an 11-yard gain up the teeth of the Bucs defense. However, the Lions found themselves in a third-and-11, and Goff couldn’t find anyone open, leading to a punt at the two-minute warning.
The Bucs would get the ball with 1:59 left and one timeout at their own 10-yard line. Down 8, they needed 90 yards and a two-point conversion to force overtime.
Mayfield’s drive didn’t last long, though, as linebacker Derrick Barnes stepped in front of a pass for a game-sealing interception.