Detroit Lions rookie Kenny Golladay has memorable debut with 2 TDs

Third-round pick opens eye with fourth-quarter scores

DETROIT — At first the Lions fans at Ford Field weren’t sure what to think about Kenny Golladay.

They’d heard the hype about the rookie wide receiver, but he didn’t catch the first few balls thrown his way,

He is a rookie after all.

But by the end of Sunday’s game — a 35-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals — Golladay had won over the hearts of Detroit.

His recipe?

Two touchdown catches in the fourth quarter. The first one for 10 yards gave the Lions their first lead in the game 21-17. It also gave Golladay the confidence he needed in his first NFL game.

“I felt like I needed to make a play and I was just happy enough. Matt (Stafford) threw a great ball, I just had to go get it and, you know, the rest is history,’’ Golladay said.

Then on the next Detroit series, Golladay was Matthew Stafford’s deep target and came up with a 45-yard touchdown catch.

“Really, once again, Matt just gave me a shot and just let my skills just do the rest pretty much. Just left my feet, used all hands and just made a nice catch,’’ Golladay said.

“He’s developing, he’s a rookie. Did he do everything right today? No. but did he make some big-time catches absolutely,’’ Stafford said.

While some fans have been calling Golladay the next Calvin Johnson – that is jumping the gun.

He’s 6-foot-4, works hard and makes for a good red-zone target.

However the coaching staff has not dumped too much praise on him. No need to create extra pressure.

“The proof is in the pudding. In this league, this is a tough league. Often times I just think people when they look at what these guys accomplish, and it may be one game, but one game doesn’t mean a whole lot,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “Let’s look at it over a period of time. But do we expect him to be a good player? Yes. We do expect him to be. But he’s got to go out there and prove it. And this is one game where he had a decent finish with the big catch at the end, a couple big plays for us. But let’s see what happens next game. Yeah, but he’s off to a good start I think.”

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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.

Teez Tabor, Zach Zenner among Detroit Lions’ inactives vs. Cardinals

No real surprises among those who will not play

DETROIT >> Second-round pick Teez Tabor is among the inactives for the Lions who face the Arizona Cardinals today in the season opener.

Tabor, a cornerback, has not been on the injury report, it’s a matter of numbers, a coach’s decision.

Meanwhile cornerback Jamal Agnew, a fifth-round pick, will play. One difference is that Agnew is expected to return punts.

Running backs Zach Zenner and Tion Green are inactive too. Leaving Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington as the three active backs.

Other inactives for Detroit are wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, guard Zac Kerin, tackle Corey Robinson and tackle Storm Norton (who was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday when linebacker Nick Bellore was released).

Cardinals inactives: Linebacker Deone Bucannon, DT Robert Nkemdiche, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Chad Williams, OL Ulrick John, LB Scooby Wright and OL Will Holden.

Five things to watch from the Detroit Lions as they face Cardinals in opener

All eyes will be on Detroit’s defensive line

Finally, the regular NFL season is upon us.

The Detroit Lions are as prepared as they can be. They’ll take on the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the newly renovated Ford Field.

What will we see on the enlarged video screens?

Tough to tell.

Five things to watch :

1. Ziggy Ansah says he’s healthy and ready to go. Fine. What about the rest of the defensive line? Remember Khyri Thornton and Armonty Bryant are suspended. The tackles, with starters A’Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata, should be OK. Defensive end Cornelius Washington is a little tired of hearing about the questions on the ends. They can provide an answer by playing well and getting to Palmer early and often. Look for Anthony Zettel and Jeremiah Valoaga to rotate in at the ends. If the defensive line can persevere, the Lions have a better chance of winning.

2. Rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis has a lot on his shoulders. The first-round pick would not be starting unless defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had faith in him. He’s football smart, hard-working and talented, but he is also a rookie. It’s not like he’ll be alone he’ll be supported by Tahir Whitehead in the nickel package and veteran Paul Worrilow in the three linebacker sets.

3. Ameer Abdullah is healthy and so ready to go after missing the last 14 games last season. He and Theo Riddick must get off to a good start. This run game, with both of them healthy, should be similar to what we saw in the opener a year ago when they combined for 228 yards of offense. They’ll likely get some help from Zach Zenner, maybe in goal-line situations.

4. Of course, Matthew Stafford’s play will be the biggest factor this season. Everyone expects the best from him. He doesn’t like to think about the last time the Lions played the Cards when he was benched after throwing three interceptions. He’s a much different quarterback now.

5. Not only do the Cardinals have a stellar passing game led by quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Running back David Johnson can cause plenty of damage running the ball and catching it. He will be a good test for the secondary which is expected to feature the same starters as last year — Darius Slay, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson and Nevin Lawson.

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Cardinals 24. It’s a tough matchup, but homefield will have an effect in the opener. Everyone is healthy (except for punter Sam Martin) so the Lions must take advantage.

For Detroit Lions, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick can pack a one-two punch

They combined for 228 yards in 2016 opener

ALLEN PARK >> Despite last season’s inept rushing game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has remained confident for this season.

The coach has two good reasons for his belief in a revitalization of a run game that was ranked 30th in the league averaging 81.9 yards per game in 2016.

It’s a whole new ball game with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick both healthy.

It all starts with the opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Ford Field. Game time is 1 p.m.

Abdullah missed the final 14 games last season due to foot surgery and Riddick played in just 10 games with a variety of injuries.

“Explosive. Both those backs, he and (Theo) Riddick, they can hit a home run on every play and you got to have them up. Ameer, one missed tackle and he can take it to the house, and same thing with Riddick,’’ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in a conference call this week. “In pass coverage, you better know where you’re going.”

No one is more excited to take the field than Abdullah who worked so hard to reach this point.

“It means a lot. I worked really hard. … That’s something I’ve always done. I’m the youngest of nine so I’ve always had to work to be noticed in my family because I have a lot of successful people. That’s something I pride myself on. I want people to know i’ve worked my tail off this offseason to be in the position and I don’t expect anything but good things for myself and this team moving forward,’’ Abdullah said.

He looked strong in OTAs and that carried on through training camp and his limited time in preseason games.

“Ameer creates big plays in the run game at a pretty high clip, and that’s exciting. Also creates big plays in the pass game. He’s an explosive player. Looks good running around out there, looks healthy, and he’s excited to get going this year,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said on Thursday.

Abdullah looks forward to getting back on the field with Riddick.

In the opener in 2016 — the only game they both played four quarters — they combined for 228 yards of offense. Abdullah ran up 63 rushing yards with 57 receiving yards and a score while  Riddick rushed for 45 yards and had 63 receiving yards with one receiving and one rushing touchdown.

“That’s cool, but that’s in the past really. This is 2017. What we did in 2016 when we were together it was good to watch on film to learn from but we don’t expect to be the same players as we were in 2016 even though it was a positive note we left on,’’ Abdullah said. “We want to be better and I feel like we are better. Just watching Theo I think he’s 10 times better. Anytime he’s out I’m definitely competing with him trying to keep that level of play.’’

The two have grown to be close friends, helping each other on and off the field.

“We always talk about it. It’s good to have a friend much more than just a teammate in Theo. A guy who wants to see you do well,’’ Abdullah said. “… That’s such a dream connection. We understand we’re only as good as when we’re on the field together both healthy.’’

Five things to know about Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford as he prepares for Arizona Cardinals

Benching against Cardinals 2 years ago not a factor

ALLEN PARK >> Matthew Stafford played probably the worst game of his career on Oct. 11, 2015, in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the team the Detroit Lions will face on Sunday in their season opener at Ford Field.

That day, Stafford had thrown a pair of interceptions by half-time and coach Jim Caldwell told him, he’d be benched if he threw one more. Indeed he did and Dan Orlovsky took the field.

“Just tough start as a team, myself included. Didn’t play well enough. Not a good feeling obviously but like you said, a lot’s happened since then so I feel good about where we are now,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday.

He’s played well since, but doesn’t think the benching played a part in that.

“I think that game was in itself its own game like every game is. I don’t sit back and go into this week and go, ‘Man, for 27 weeks, man, I’ve played pretty darn good ball. Looks like I’m going to play good again this week.’ You’ve got to earn it every week and that’s just how I go about it,’’ Stafford said.

That game is not a concern at all for Caldwell who seemed surprised that anyone even brought up the subject.

Five things to know about Stafford as the Lions prepare for the Cardinals this time around:

1. The quarterback, entering his ninth season, likes the roster depth. “We have guys at a lot of positions that can help us. I think all the way up and down the line, maybe more so than we ever have,’’ Stafford said. “I’m obviously extremely excited about all the guys that are going to be in there with the first-string guys. I think we’ve got a very talented team in that way too. But we’ve done a nice job of building some depth whether it’s through free agency or the draft.”

2. He said preparing for the Cardinals’ defense is not easy. “They’re obviously unique in their scheme and play a guy that’s 210 pounds at linebacker (Deone Bucannon) and he flies around and blows up plays in the back field and plays a lot bigger than he is,’’ Stafford said. “And like you said, guys in the secondary, you know, ball hawks out there, 21 (Patrick Peterson) and 32 (Tyrann Mathieu), have done it for years. And some of the other guys that are maybe new to the team this year or new to their role, are playing really well too. And then they have guys that can rush the passer really at all spots up front. So, they do a really nice job, traditionally have been a very good defense, and don’t expect to see anything different.”

3. The Cardinals finished 2016 with a league leading 48 sacks and they cover with speed. Stafford calls that a good recipe. “They’ve got guys that can play man coverage and just make it tough on you as an offense. Play man coverage and really create one-on-one matchups in the pass protection schemes as well,’’ Stafford said. “So, they’re about creating one-on-ones and betting that their guys are going to win more one-on-ones than you are and that’s a challenge, a fun one. As an offense, you enjoy those challenges.”

4. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians holds the utmost respect for Stafford. “I’ve always been a big, big, huge fan of Matthew. I think he has one of the best arms in the business. He can make every single throw, he’s tough as nails,’’ Arians said in a conference call. “Just watching him stay in the same system, that’s most young quarterbacks — they get to stay in the same system with the same coaches and you see them improve.’’

5. Stafford knows that his play will help determine the Lions’ success or lack of it. “I’m a quarterback. In this league, you probably get more credit when you play well and more blame when you don’t as a team, so I feel extremely responsible for the way this team goes,’’ Stafford said. “And I know that. I’ve felt that way for, going into my ninth year now. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. The quarterback in the league is an extremely important part of the team. And part of that role isn’t just going out and playing well on Sundays, it’s helping our team prepare throughout the week and getting us into the right frame of mind and readiness to play.”

Five things to know as Lions get under way after roster cuts

At least nine new starters expected on Sunday

ALLEN PARK >> It was a little like the first day of school and Christmas combined when the Lions held their first practice after the roster has been cut to 53 men.

On Labor Day, the Lions were back at work preparing for their opener on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field at 1 p.m.

“In particular now because the squad’s reduction in terms of your roster limits, your practices should be more crisp,’’ Caldwell said. “They should be fast, if you got the best of the best out there amongst the group that you choose from, then everything should improve in that regard. So, we’re expecting that to happen. But then also, our crystallization, our focus and things of that nature, should be in place as well.’’

Five things to know as the week of preparation gets under way:

1. Like every year, there’s a big shift in the roster. Some starting roles are uncertain (no depth chart has been released yet) but there will be at least nine guys who didn’t start the final regular season game of 2016. We’ll see new faces at four offensive line positions; no WR Anquan Boldin; also DE Devin Taylor, LB DeAndre Levy, CB Asa Jackson are gone; and punter Sam Martin still out with an injury. “It’s always I think pretty drastic change from one year to the next these days in our game. So, you have to be able to adjust. You got to be able to teach well,’’ Caldwell said. “You got to be able to train. You got to develop. I think those things are important. But we still got core guys that’ll be able to lead the way for us.”

2. Caldwell won’t explain why they kept five running backs instead of four, but he will elaborate on undrafted running back Tion Green. “I think those things are pretty obvious. He’s a guy that’s, he’s coming, he’s growing. He can move well. He’s deceptive in terms of his speed, as you saw the other night,’’ Caldwell said. “But he’s a guy that’s got some power, balance. And he’s been effective in special teams too. So, all those things just in terms of dealing with him in particular.”

3. The coach is excited about this group of guys. “First of all because I think that No. 1, we got a real good core group of guys leading the way for us that have certainly proven that they can play in this league and play well. And then we got a group of young guys that I think are coming that have talent and ability. They just got a little ways to go in terms of learning and developing,’’ Caldwell said. “But I’m excited about this group. I mean this is a good group. So, health’s on our side and where it’s not, we get the next man up playing and doing his job, we’ll be fine. But it’s a great group.”

4. Leadership among players is key to Caldwell. Not just veterans, but a few young guys will be counted on as well. “I think it’s vital. And I think that’s one of the things that you sense with good core leaders that they have to be able to kind of carry that banner for you,’’ Caldwell said. “There is a certain way you want things done. There is a certain type of attitude that you want in terms of preparation and things of that nature. And those are the guys that generally set the tone for you.’’

5. It’s the 40th year of coaching and the 17th in the NFL for Caldwell. His favorite time of year? “Ballgames, obviously. But, I like the preparation leading up to the ballgames even more. Getting guys in position to do what they got to do and the challenge of getting the team ready, that excites me, that’s a lot of fun,’’ Caldwell said. “Because you see during the course of the week that guys look at their opponent, they look at what they have to do, you implement a game plan, and then to go see if you can carry it out. But, it’s the preparation I think more so than anything else.’’