The Detroit Lions needed a victory to keep their season afloat. A loss would have put this team at 1-4 with a real risk of spiraling out of control. However, at least for one week, the Lions avoided disaster and have put themselves in position to parlay a three-game home stand into a winning record.
Here are some immediate thoughts
- The Lions entered the season relatively healthy but that quickly changed with key players such as defensive end Ziggy Ansah, linebacker DeAndre Levy, running back Amir Abduallah and tight end Eric Ebron - among others - all missing recent time (and all missing Week 5). This was the first week in which it felt like the Lions truly adjusted to those injuries.
- Even though Ebron isn't a mauling on-the-line blocker, the Lions adjusted to his absence by using Corey Robinson as a blocking tight end throughout the game. The Lions ran and passed out of those sets, keeping the defense honest.
- With Golden Tate struggling in the season's first four games, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter found a way to get the slumping receiver involved in the game. Cooter lined Tate up in the backfield on a handful of occasions. On paper, the numbers aren't anything to write home about but what's lost in that is the fact that the Lions were able to leverage that formation for a touchdown when Stafford looked Tate's way for what appeared to be a quick, in-the-backfield pass but instead spun around and hit Theo Riddick with a short pass that turned into a 17-yard touchdown.
- Not only did Tate's backfield looks setup the Riddick touchdown but they also kept Tate mentally engaged. That paid dividends when the receiver converted a third-and-four on a Stafford dime. That 27-yard gain was the key play on the Lions game-winning drive.
- One last point on Tate. The post-game vibe from reporters and from Tate himself had a sense of redemption for the receiver who entered Week 5 on pace for under 400 receiving yards for the year. Although Tate did make some big plays in the game and was clearly a key member of the offense, I'm not sold that this will result in a turnaround. Tate mustered only 45 yards on six touches. What's more concerning is that on his big 29-yard play, both he and Stafford admitted he ran the wrong depth of route (he was supposed to be only four-to-six yards deep when he caught the ball). A week after he ran the wrong route on a Stafford interception, it's concerning that he had another mental error.
- Considering the Lions entered the game short-handed at running back and playing a strong defensive front, it's impressive that they maintained such a strong run-pass balance (27 to 25).
- The Lions defense entered the fourth quarter of this game having generated only one turnover all season. Darius Slay essentially doubled that himself by forcing the fumble that lead to the winning points and then sealing the game on the next defensive play with a great deep interception.
- Slay deserves player-of-the-game consideration after this performance. Not only were his two forced turnovers a key element to the win, it's even more impressive he was able to make them considering the Eagles barely went his way with the ball. His ability to maintain focus and make a play late in a game where he didn’t see a lot of action early is significant. With Ansah and Levy out, he's the unquestioned star of the defense and - even when those guys come back - he's right there with them.
- It was interesting to see the Lions rotate in Graham Glasgow at left guard in favor of Laken Tomlinson for extended stretches in the game. They did the same thing, although at a lesser extent, at cornerback with Johnson Bademosi subbing in for Nevin Lawson for a stretch. Head coach Jim Caldwell said the rotation was part of the plan heading in, wanting to get the young guys some reps in light of some of the injuries the team had experienced at other positions. Although that may be true, it's hard not to believe that Tomlinson and Lawson's respective performances up to this point didn't contribute to the decision. Will be interesting to see how this plays out moving forward.
- Don’t discount the power of penalties. The Lions were flagged often during their three-game losing streak but had only two accepted flags against for 18 yards in this one. On the other hand, the Eagles gifted the Lions five first downs and 111 yards via 14 penalties. This one-point win may not happen without those.