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6 takeaways from Lions’ Divisional Round win over the Buccaneers

Fresh off a historic win, the Lions prove yet again they belong in the playoff picture. Next up: the NFC Championship.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have sent a message: this team is for real.

Emotions were high following a historic playoff win last week over the Los Angeles Rams, slaying the demons of a playoff drought and Matthew Stafford in one fell swoop. Detroit was not phased or satisfied, and they proved it against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the 31-23 win, the Lions have punched their ticket to the NFC Championship and a date with the San Francisco 49ers.

Let’s examine some takeaways.

The team that can, will, and has

The Lions broke the streak last week with their first playoff win in ages, but that was not the end of the road. With this victory, the Lions have not only achieved another playoff win, but this regime led by Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes has firmly entrenched itself as the most successful era of Lions football since the days of Barry Sanders.

The Detroit Lions are no longer just a sneaky good team: this is a team that is playing football worthy of a Super Bowl. Before the big dance, the Lions have a titan ahead of them in the San Francisco 49ers. Yet given how much this team has grown under its leadership, any team feels beatable.

Jared Goff is the man

The Lions would be nowhere without Jared Goff.

Goff has grown so much during his time with the Lions, and his growth reflects the team’s progress as well. So many players have found a home in Detroit and its culture. It’s one thing to see a team rally around their quarterback, but it’s another to see him step up like Goff has. Goff has made clutch throw after clutch throw, all while minimizing the mistakes and keeping the offense humming.

Sure, the offense has its down periods, but most offenses are like that. What really matters is coming alive when the moment arises. Look at the Lions’ final touchdown drive. Goff was delivering darts to Sam LaPorta, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Jameson Williams, capped off with a St. Brown score. That is the type of confidence that the Lions are loving. He’s no longer a quarterback that needs a lot to go right for him to be successful. He isn’t a cog in the offense, he is the cog.

The 2021 draft strikes back

The 2021 NFL Draft was Brad Holmes’ first big statement as a general manager, and he made the most of it. While Levi Onwuzurike stands out as a second-round disappointment, this class directly led to this playoff victory.

Amon-Ra St. Brown needs little introduction. The 112th-overall selection has blown expectations out of the water since being draft and rightfully earned a first-team All-Pro nod this year. He finished the day as the Lions’ leading pass catcher, turning eight catches in 77 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Just another day at the office for the Sun God.

Similarly, Penei Sewell is in the upper echelon of tackles in the NFL, also earning a first-team All-Pro selection this season. Goff was sacked twice on the day, but as a whole, Sewell is a rock. He is a cornerstone of the offense going forward.

Alim McNeill played a critical role along the interior of the defense, and while he only totaled one tackle, he allows the rest of the defense to make some noise.

Ifeatu Melifonwu was looking like a missed draft selection, but his late--season breakout has been stunning. Not only is he a menace in run defense and coverage, but he is being used phenomenally as a pass rusher—he finished with 1.5 sacks against Tampa Bay.

Derrick Barnes has perhaps been overlooked with Alex Anzalone having a great season and first round rookie Jack Campbell seeing an uptick in his defensive role. When it mattered most, Barnes came up with the play of a lifetime. His interception of Baker Mayfield not only sealed the win for the Lions, but it was a thing of beauty as well.

Jermar Jefferson is the only other member of the draft class, but he was a mere seventh rounder. The Lions have gotten some excellent production from Holmes’ initial draft and it is a key reason why Detroit is in the NFC Championship.

Bucs abandon a productive run game

The run defense has been a strength for the Lions all season long, but their Divisional Round game against the Buccaneers was a below-average one. Early on, the Buccaneers running backs were carving up the front seven. That tune completely changed in the second half.

Rachaad White had carries of one, five, and 14 yards on Tampa Bay’s opening second half drive, but White would get just one carry the rest of the way—a loss of four yards courtesy of Brian Branch. White did suffer an injury that only kept him out for a play, but he finished the day with nine carries for 55 yards, and the Bucs went away from the efficient ground attack. Although the Buccaneers were playing from behind for most of the game, they were never on a time crunch until late in the game and could have justified more runs.

Backups will get worked next week

The Lions will have to do some roster shuffling ahead of the NFC Championship tilt.

Left guard Jonah Jackson injured his knee fairly early in the game, leaving and not returning. This led to Kayode Awosika filling in, and while he played well, it would far from optimal to have him start against a ferocious San Francisco 49ers front seven. The offensive line also took a hit when center Frank Ragnow got rolled on, but he managed to play the rest of the game. The man himself says he will be alright, but hopefully it doesn’t limit him in the week leading up.

Sam LaPorta is getting healthier and his production is increasing as a result, but the depth behind him is getting shallower and shallower. Brock Wright suffered a forearm injury, ending his day after a pivotal 29-yard reception channeling his game-winner against the New York Jets last season. With James Mitchell already on the Injured Reserve, the Lions only have Antony Firkser in reserve behind LaPorta. Given how much Ben Johnson loves to utilize his tight ends, the Lions might be in a tough spot barring a free agent signing.

The initial assessments for Jackson’s and Wright’s injuries are not ideal, so the Lions might have to lean on some backups next week.

Todd Bowles throws away hope

This is really minor in the grand scheme of things, but following the last-minute Barnes interception, the Lions bled the clock until there was 34 seconds left in the game. Having taken a knee on third down, the Lions let the clock run out and won the game. Yet the Buccaneers still had one timeout remaining. They could have forced the Lions to make one more play, but instead they gave up. Todd Bowles admitted it himself:

With the season on the line, a head coach cannot make a mistake like that, even with the faintest of chances. Sure, the Lions are in prime position for a field goal to make it a two-score game, but that is still a chance Bowles needs to take. The Lions do not have a reliable kicking game. If there’s a miss or bobbled or bad snap or block, suddenly the Buccaneers get the ball back. Thirty seconds is not a lot to work with, but at least your season is still technically alive.

John’s Turning Point: Jahmyr Gibbs 31-yard touchdown run

After a quiet first half for the offense, the Lions needed to get something going. Craig Reynolds (!) had scored at the goal line on the previous drive, but it still felt like they were missing that spark. Jahmyr Gibbs had come close on multiple occasions to breaking off a big play, but some solid Buccaneers tackling limited the damage.

All it takes is one play.

The Lions started the late third/early fourth quarter drive with two great plays to Gibbs and an 18-yarder to Josh Reynolds. When it seemed like the Lions were gaining ground, Gibbs broke it open.

Gibbs displayed his combination of speed and agility, making Antoine Winfield stutter before beating him in a race to the end zone. Having a weapon that can explode like this at any moment is truly special.

This is talent.

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