Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez share their thoughts after the Lions’ 35-23 win over the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at Ford Field.
Safeties Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew had INTs for the Lions
Matthew Stafford has done plenty of heavy lifting during his nine NFL seasons, hoisting the Detroit Lions on his shoulders to make up for shortcomings on defense or in the running game.
But in Sunday’s season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford got a bit of an unexpected gift – a standout defensive performance from a much-maligned unit that just might be better than anyone expected.
The Lions forced four turnovers and Kenny Golladay had a debut to remember, catching two second-half touchdown passes, as the Lions beat the Cardinals, 35-23, at Ford Field.
“We couldn’t get out of our own way early on, but our defense kept us in it,” Stafford said. “It wasn’t pretty. A bunch of penalties, some mistakes, turned the ball over. Obviously, don’t want to throw a touchdown to the other team on my first pass of the season, but we’re a resilient group, everybody is. Just kept our head down and kept plugging.”
Safeties Tavon Wilson, Glover Quin and Miles Killebrew had interceptions for the Lions, and A’Shawn Robinson forced a fumble as the Lions scored 19 points off four Arizona turnovers.
Quin’s interception set up the Lions’ first touchdown of the game. Robinson forced a fumble late in the third quarter to set up another Lions TD. And Killebrew returned his pick 35 yards for a touchdown with 4:03 to play to seal the victory.
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The Lions tied for 28th in the NFL with just 14 takeaways last year, but Quin said creating more turnovers has been an emphasis for the team since off-season workouts began in April.
“When you hustle to the ball, when you do what you’re supposed to do, when you execute, you make plays like that,” Quin said. “I mean, I try to preach to the guys all the time, interceptions don’t come from doing something spectacular. Nine times out of 10, if you just do your job and be in the spot you’re supposed to be in and hustle, interceptions will come to you. And so we ran to perfect spots today and we were ready to make some plays.”
Wilson picked off an errant Carson Palmer pass on the game’s opening series, and the Lions withstood a bevy of first-half mistakes on offense and special teams before Stafford led his 29th career come-from-behind victory.
Justin Bethel returned Stafford’s first pass of the game 82 yards for a Cardinals touchdown after former Lion Josh Bynes bumped Golden Tate off his route on a pass over the middle.
The Lions didn’t record a first down until about a minute remained in the first quarter, after they already had benched kick returner Dwayne Washington for poor decision making and lost punter Kasey Redfern to what coach Jim Caldwell called a “significant” knee injury.
Redfern, who was filling in for the injured Sam Martin, dropped a snap in the end zone on his second punt of the game, then injured his knee on a big hit by Cardinals tight end Ifeanyi Momah as he scrambled toward the sideline.
Redfern’s injury – he was carted to the locker room – forced kicker Matt Prater to handle punting duties the rest of the game and backup quarterback Jake Rudock to take over as holder, but it also led to a key defensive stop that fueled the Lions the rest of the way.
The Cardinals took over at the Lions’ 13-yard line after the botched punt, but the Lions kept them out of the end zone on six straight red-zone plays.
We look at five plays that turned the game in the Lions’ 35-23 victory over the Cardinals in the season opener at Ford Field, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Video by Marlowe Alter, Detroit Free Press
Arizona got an extra set of downs on the possession after Anthony Zettel was called for a leaping penalty on Phil Dawson’s initial field-goal attempt, but the Lions stuffed David Johnson on consecutive plays and Killebrew sniffed out a tight end screen to Jermaine Gresham to force another Cardinals field goal.
The Lions answered with nine points in the second quarter, and after falling behind, 17-9, at the start of the second half, rattled off 26 straight points for the victory.
Free Press sports writers Shawn Windsor and Jeff Seidel break down what happened in the Detroit Lions’ 35-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at Ford Field.
“Typically in a game like that you end up being 21-0 or 28-0 very easily,” Caldwell said. “And what our defense did, the way they hung in there, they did not flinch. They did a great job I think of holding them, making them work for every inch.”
Stafford, less than two weeks after he signed a record-setting $135-million contract extension, finished 29 of 41 passing for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
Golden Tate had game highs of 10 catches and 107 yards receiving, Theo Riddick and Marvin Jones caught touchdown passes, and Golladay shined with four catches for 69 yards and two TDs.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford discusses rookie WR Kenny Golladay’s 2 TDs in the season-opening win over the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at Ford Field. Video by Dave Birkett/DFP
Golladay caught the go-ahead touchdown with 9:27 to play over Bethel in the left corner of the end zone, then beat Bethel for a diving touchdown on the Lions’ next series with the Cardinals selling out to stop the run.
“He’s a boss,” Tate said. “Kenny did what he’s been doing all camp, what you guys have all been talking about. He came out, once he got going, he played phenomenal. He’s a tough, smart, very talented guy and he helped us big. Without him making some of those plays, I don’t know how this game goes.”
Johnson, who amassed more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage last season, had just 23 yards rushing on 11 carries Sunday and another 68 yards receiving before leaving in the second half with a wrist injury.
Palmer finished 27 of 48 passing for 269 yards for the Cardinals.
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