There was a glorious moment fairly early in the NFL’s 1 p.m. ET window on Sunday, where RedZone ran down the leaders for passing, rushing, and receiving so far on the day. First among quarterbacks? Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions. First in RBs? Little-known Lions back Craig Reynolds. And first among wideouts? Goff’s top target on the year, Amon-Ra St. Brown. While two of these three players would eventually be supplanted by some more-famous peers, the Lions as a team would not slip in the second half, and they continued to outplay the Arizona Cardinals in a convincing 30-12 win.
Yeah, the Arizona Cardinals! Contributing to their sheer wrongness of these statistics was the fact that the Lions were not merely butting up against another failure, like Houston did in their 30-16 win over Jacksonville. They were taking on a team that still, even now, holds first place in the uber-competitive NFC West with a record of 10-4, and who had a chance to clinch their playoff spot with a win over Detroit. But instead of getting crunched like they did in their 38-10 defeat last week against Denver, and like they have most weeks this year, the Lions bullied the Cardinals into submission, running over their tacklers and stifling their offense at the perfect times to deliver perhaps the most baffling victory of this NFL season.
Though it only ended in a field goal, the Lions set the tone with the game’s first drive, which took nearly nine minutes off the clock through 15 plays, and after forcing a three-and-out on the Cardinals’ first possession, they took the ball back and went 93 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. Reynolds, the running back, was the early star, racking up mileage on carries that mixed with Goff’s short passes. Where did this dude even come from? Kutztown University, of course. And after tours through several different camps and practice squads over the past couple years, resulting in just two NFL touches, Reynolds has spent the last two games as Detroit’s most formidable ball-carrier. I guess there are just guys hanging around the fringes in the NFL, waiting to do stuff like this when called upon.
Goff, who regularly dominated the Cardinals as a Ram, had another solid game here, displaying what’s become numbing accuracy on his typical conservative throws while also torching the secondary over the top on a couple of occasions. The play-action and Arizona’s aggressive pressure opened up St. Brown down the field for the Lions’ first touchdown:
And at the end of the half, to make it 17-0, Goff nailed a throw across the middle from 22 yards out, finding Josh Reynolds on a play one rarely sees the fettucini-armed quarterback even attempt. This capped off a 97-yard drive in under two minutes!
On the other end, the Lions’ D made it tough on Kyler Murray, forcing mistakes in the most critical moments to stop Arizona from ever gathering momentum. The Lions only sacked Murray twice, but both times they did so on third down with the game 10-0, creating a change of possession. And after Lions RB Godwin Igwebuike fumbled in the third quarter with the game still within reach at 17-3, Amani Oruwariye snagged Murray’s next pass on a gorgeously athletic play, bringing it all the way down to the Arizona six and setting the stage for a 24-3 Lions lead.
After an often-heartbreaking and always difficult first season, this was a game that reflected well on head coach Dan Campbell, whose 2-11-1 Lions have shown clear improvement since hitting the bye week at 0-8. Coming off a blowout loss to the Broncos, Week 15 would have been a perfect time for Detroit to pack it in and cash those game checks while thinking more about the holidays and upcoming offseason than their last few opponents. But somehow, it was Arizona that looked checked out, and their post-game quotes said just as much.
“We weren’t ourselves today,” said linebacker Jordan Hicks.
“They were hungrier than us,” Murray added. “They played harder than us. We didn’t come prepared at all and it showed.”
“They had a better sense of urgency from the start,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury observed.
The Lions, meanwhile, are riding high on their second win in three games, even if it meant nothing more than proving they had a higher ceiling than their doubters believed.
“You know the game we’ve talked about playing all season? This was that game,” Goff said. “This is what we knew we could do.”
It doesn’t make any sense that this, of all the games, would be the one where Detroit had a solution to every problem. But I guess it doesn’t have to make sense. It happened.