DETROIT — All week the Lions showed respect for the Cleveland Browns who have not won a game this season.
All week fans and pundits repeatedly talked and wrote about how the Lions, who were double-digit favorites, should absolutely beat the Browns. It just made sense. The Lions were at home and the Browns were the Browns and they were 0-for-8 in the first half of the season.
So when the Lions found themselves down 10-0 early in the first half, the team wasn’t surprised but most everyone else at Ford Field was.
The Lions pulled out a 38-24 win on Sunday and to coach Jim Caldwell that is what matters.
Detroit is now 5-4 and plays at the Chicago Bears (3-6) next Sunday. The Browns dropped to 0-9.
“Not really worried about (the slow start). I’m really worried about how we play at the end. It’s very difficult to play a team that everybody thinks that doesn’t have players. That team has players,’’ Caldwell said. “… A lot of people – I’ve been on that side before — I know what it looks like and they played just exactly like I anticipated they’d play. They played very, very well. So, for our guys to come out and get a victory, I don’t care who we’re playing, in this league, a victory is hard to get. You can downplay it and all that kind of stuff, but I’m just telling you that there are no easy wins in this league. They’re all difficult, so I’m glad our guys measured up.”
Caldwell did repeat the same message that he has after every game — he knows they have a lot of work to do.
Here are five reasons the Lions won:
1. The run game, which has been brutal at times this season, was executing in the first half and helped set up the passing game. “Going against this defense we knew that they took pride in the stopping the run and they were dominant run stoppers,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said. “I think we kind of took it personal. I think we had a great week of practicing it and we were prepared. On top of having some great runners like Theo (Riddick), Dwayne (Washington) and Ameer (Abdullah) we just made it happen. We got some guys back on the offensive line that made a difference and those holes were opening up.’’ Taylor Decker at left tackle and Corey Robinson, who started at right guard, returned.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford said that when the game was in hand late, he thanked the backs and the offensive line for keeping them in the game in the first half. “We were having to adjust to some different looks in the passing game and some different coverages we didn’t expect to see,’’ Stafford said. The Lions had 89 rushing yards in the first half which is more than they average per game (79.9). Detroit finished with 103 rushing yards. Stafford was 17 of 26 for 249 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
2. Golden Tate’s 40-yard touchdown pass play with 3:06 left in the game sealed the deal giving the Lions a two-touchdown lead. Tate said Stafford called an audible. “We actually had another play on and we knew they were going to cover zero blitz, Matthew made an incredible call, something we hadn’t really practiced this week,’’ Tate said. “We were all on the same page, T.J. (Jones) made a heck of a block, Marv (Jones) made a heck of a block and I had two linemen coming out to cover anybody else. It opened up like the Red Sea and the next thing you know I’m on my way to the end zone. I felt fast there.’’ It was a short right pass to Tate on a third-and-six at Cleveland’s 40. The Browns had time to score another touchdown to tie it so that score was crucial.
3. Cornerback Nevin Lawson got beat on the Browns’ first play from scrimmage giving up a 38-yard pass from DeShone Kizer to Sammie Coates. Lawson redeemed himself big time in the second quarter when he recovered a fumble and ran it in 44 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions their first lead at 17-10. “Yeah, that’s not a typical play. It’s some savvy and he just grinds all the time, that’s his nature. And then to be able to take it and run, most people probably don’t realize this guy, he can move. And he demonstrated it there, and particularly in a situation where we really needed a score, so that was good for us,’’ Caldwell said.
4. The Lions overcame a bad start from the offense and defense. It looked like a nightmare upset was ready to unfold but the Lions made adjustments and came back for the win. “We never waiver. When the team scores that early in the game you’ve got a lot of time to come back. That attitude isn’t, ‘Oh man it’s over.’ The attitude is, ‘Hey man, offense is going to get a drive, defense get a stop and we’re right back in the ballgame,’’ safety Glover Quin said.
5. Tight end Eric Ebron only had two catches but one of them was the 29-yard touchdown catch on third-and-3, that put the Lions up 31-24. “Loved it, it was a great route, great ball and great protection,’’ Tate said. “He made it look easy and pretty much walked in. Eric’s last two weeks have been tremendous, he’s been working his tail off at practice, studying more film, he’s playing at a high level, we’ve seen over the last few weeks he is a dangerous player. He’s got some agility, he’s got speed, he’s got size. When he shows up he makes it easy on everyone. I expect Eric to keep building on what he’s doing and keep proving himself right. As you could hear today a lot of people doubted him at time. He stayed strong and kept making plays that’s what we need.’’
“They were trying to bring a little man-pressure up the middle, not a whole lot of help from the post safety on Ebron’s side of the ball,’’ Stafford said. “He ran a nice route and I threw like a punt, that was not spinning real pretty, but it ended up in a good spot.”
(In photo, Jim Caldwell helped through his press conference by his three grandsons.)