Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat the Cardinals in season opener

Defense played well start to finish

DETROIT — Of course Jim Caldwell didn’t like what he saw early in Sunday’s game. His Lions were down 10-0 with plenty of time left in the first quarter.

“One of the things you don’t want to do — because there’s a lot of football left to be played — is you don’t want to completely implode which coaches very easily can do with a group if you’re not settled and say, ‘Hey let’s get this straightened out’ and talk to them about each of those phases,’’ Caldwell said. “We had a multitude of issues that popped up. But the great thing about it is our team showed the resilience to hang in there.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Then Detroit caught fire in the second half, beating the Arizona Cardinals, 35-23 at Ford Field.

Matthew Stafford got off to a bad start throwing an interception on his first pass. He said it was “pretty awesome” to have the defense pick them up.

“It’s hard to win a game in the National Football League,’’ Caldwell said and has said almost weekly since his arrival in Detroit.

Indeed.

Five reasons the Lions beat the Cardinals:

1. Detroit did not panic in the early going. “I mean the thing about it is when you understand we’re playing great on defense and two fluke things happen to cost us 10 points,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “We understand it’s early in the game as long as we keep doing our job and not let them get points our offense and special teams will start clicking.’’ That is exactly what happened. While the defensive line only sacked Carson Palmer once (Anthony Zettel with the honors), they did get pressure on the quarterback which helped create the turnovers.

2. Eventually, the Lions overcame mistakes on offense and special teams and, in the end, the defense knocked running back David Johnson out of the game. “We knew he was a huge target for them, a big part of their offense,’’ Quin said. “We wanted to make sure we knew where he was at all times. We wanted to hit him, hit him, hit him, continue to hit him and see if he could take it the whole game.’’

3. Caldwell has preached the necessity for creating turnovers. On Sunday the defense had four. “In the first game it’s good to get some results from our work, it’s something we’ve been working on a while. The guys did a nice job, caught the ones that were thrown to them when they had the opportunity and also A’Shawn (Robinson) forcing the fumble and Jarrad (Davis) doing a nice job picking it up and gaining yardage. It was good to see,’’ Caldwell said. “Our defense played well all day long, they played tough, they played hard, we had a lot of guys contributing.’’ They intercepted Carson Palmer three times and recovered a fumble. They’re off to a good start after the defense had just 14 turnovers in the entire 2016 season. Quin, Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew each picked off Palmer. For Killebrew it was his second career interception and his first touchdown after bringing it back 35 yards for the score. In the third quarter with the Lions down 17-9, Robinson forced running back David Johnson to fumble, it was recovered by rookie Jarrad Davis who ran 21 yards to the Cardinals’ 10-yard line. Two plays later Stafford connected with Theo Riddick for a touchdown.

4. Matthew Stafford remained cool under pressure as always. “You’ve got to play four quarters, we talk about that kind of stuff. … We couldn’t get out of our own way early on, but our defense kept us in it and we were able to put some points up in the second half and our defensive added one late which was awesome,’’ Stafford said. “So just a total team win, it took everybody. It wasn’t pretty, a bunch of penalties, some mistakes, turn the ball over.  Obviously don’t want to throw a touchdown to the other team on my first pass of the season. We’re a resilient group.’’ It was the 29th time in his career he’s led the team to a win after they were losing or tied in the fourth quarter. He finished 29 of 41 for 292 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and was sacked once.

5. Golden Tate injured his ring finger on his left hand but played through it. He led the receivers with 10 catches for 107 yards. Rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay got off to a bit of a slow start but had two fourth-quarter touchdown passes — one for 10 yards, one for 45 yards. Stafford called TJ Jones (two catches, 37 yards and one touchdown) the Lions’ Swiss Army knife because he can help out where it’s needed.

BONUS: The defense just had to do its job. “I try to preach to the guys that interceptions don’t come from doing something spectacular. Nine times out of 10 if you do your job and be in the spot you’re supposed to be in and hustle, interceptions will come to you,’’ Quin said.

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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