Five things to watch as Lions face Jaguars at Ford Field; plus prediction

In the last month the Lions have knocked down three big barriers: winning on the road, winning back to back; and winning three straight.

After the Thanksgiving loss to the Bills, their next barrier is clear.

“Can we come back off an ‘L’ and be the same team we were when we were on the win streak? That’s the next thing we’ve got to prove we can do,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week. “I know that’s a team deal but defensively can we be the same defense that was on the field stopping people in crucial situations. That’s going to be a huge test for us, guys are really looking forward to that.’’ 

The Lions will have that chance when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field. The teams, which are both 4-7, are nearly mirror images of each other. Young teams, learning how to win and stay in playoff contention even in December. The Jaguars have won two of their last three including a big win over the Ravens on Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams was activated on Saturday making him eligible to play on Sunday. Coach Dan Campbell was noncommittal on Friday on whether Williams would make his debut on Sunday. The first-round pick, who is coming off a torn ACL, had his first full practices this week. His speed impressed immediately. “He’s fast. He’s very fast. He’s very, very fast,’’’ quarterback Jared Goff said. Even though he’s active, he might not get a ton of snaps. The Lions usually ease players in after injury.

Five things to watch:

1. There’s not much wiggle room, but the Lions still hold a chance of getting to the playoffs. Campbell said he does not talk to the team about that, he knows they’ve figured it out.  “I think we – everything has to be about this opponent, this next game, I really believe that. And I know there’s a lot of coach speak in that, but I really do man. I think this is – this is a crucial game for us,’’ Campbell said. “We’ve got to be able to get back in the win column, do things right, do what we’ve done over the last three or four weeks here. And you’ve got to go earn a win again, doesn’t matter who that opponent is because there again, they’re playing pretty good football. If we take a step back from where we’ve been, then our chances of winning go way down. So, I think everything has to be about this one. And we have to put our head down and go to work, and do the things right, do all the little things right. And then, six weeks from now, you look up and the dust has cleared and let’s see what happens.”

2. Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence is hitting stride. The first overall pick in 2021 has thrown six touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the last three games with a quarterback rating of more than 100 in each. Oh, and he’s mobile which poses more challenges to the Lions defense. “When you look at it, every week I feel like, man, if you’re not careful he’ll pick you apart. And they’ll have schemes that they do well, things they hang their hat on, but they’ll attack your coverages and he’s been pretty good,’’ Campbell said. “He doesn’t hold that ball long, he’s going to get it out. But I think that was the icing on the cake for him, to see him driving down the field, man, at the end of that game and make critical throws. He’s playing at a high level and with a lot of confidence, so I don’t have to tell you, man, we’ve got to try to push the pocket on him. We’ve got to challenge a little bit at times and see if we can get him out of rhythm.”

3. Getting a fast start is key for the Lions against a team that has momentum on its side and can win a game late in the fourth quarter. “You’d always love to get to a fast start. We always would want to do that. The three-and-out on defense or offense, you take it all the way down and score a touchdown. There again, I think more than anything you just want to be efficient. You always want it to go perfect, but I think more than anything you just – you want to know that anything that transpires is because the opponent earned it and we didn’t just give it away, whatever that drive or that series is to start the game out,’’ Campbell said. “But yeah, we need to get to a fast start, we need to get a fast start in the third quarter too. We’ve got to be better there. But they are, they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

4. While Lions running back Jamaal Williams leads the NFL with 13 touchdowns, D’Andre Swift is beginning to be more of a factor in the offense after coming back from injury.  “I thought (Swift) did some good things for us (on Thanksgiving). I thought there – he brought us a little bit of life and he’s – I feel like every week he’s starting to feel better and getting himself back into where he wants to be and where we want him to be,’’ Campbell said. “So, I anticipate him getting a little bit more this week.”

5. Lions defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson and Jags outside linebacker Travon Walker were the top two picks in this year’s NFL draft. They won’t be on the field at the same time, but all eyes will be on the two. Hutchinson, who was named the NFC’s defensive rookie of the month for November, has not forgotten that the Jaguars passed on him. The hometown guy is happy playing for the Lions but seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  Walker has also got off to a good start. If the Jaguars had drafted Hutchinson, Walker might very well be on the LIons roster. “We really liked Travon, liked him a lot. We were really high on him, and I think he’s what we thought he would be. He’s very versatile, he plays their outside linebacker and base, and then plays their rush end,’’ Campbell said. “He can play both sides, he’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got power, and he’s – every week he gets a little bit better. So, I think – I think they’ve got a good pick up over there and I think we got a good pick up, so.”

(PREDICTION: Lions 28, Jaguars 24. Should be close.)


Five reasons the Lions were able to hold on to beat the Bears, 31-30

On Sunday, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields was tough to stop, but when it counted the Detroit Lions found a way. 

When it was over Detroit squeaked out a 31-30 win at Soldier Field. It was Detroit’s first road win since Dec. 6, 2020, the first game after Matt Patricia was fired. That makes it the first road win for coach Dan Campbell and the second straight win for the 3-6 Lions.

The Lions were down 24-10 to start the fourth quarter and were able to claw back.

“We got ourselves back in the game. We’ve gotten back in a lot of games but haven’t been able to finish them out. And we got ourselves back in the game and won it,’’ Campbell said. 
“That to me, more than anything else means everything to me, to this team. That’s above ‘on the road.’ The fact that we battled our way back and they stayed true to what they’ve been coached to do and we made the plays we had to to win the game.’’

Tied 10-10 at the half, the Bears scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 24-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Midway through the quarter, D’Andre Swift’s 9-yard touchdown scamper got the Lions back into the game, down 24-17.

Then one minute and 8 seconds later, cornerback Jeff Okudah intercepted Fields and brought the ball back 6 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 24-24.

Of course there was no quit in Fields and he busted through the middle and ran 67 yards for a touchdown with Okudah on his heels as he headed into the endzone. After the extra point was missed, the Bears led 30-24 with 9:11 left. Each team went three-and-out and the Lions got the ball back with 5:23 remaining.

Running back Jamaal Williams completed the 91-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The extra point was good, giving the Lions a 31-30 lead. 

Five of the many reasons the Lions won:

1. Even after the Lions’ final score, the Bears had enough time to get downfield and kick a field goal to win it. But Aidan Hutchinson, Julian Okwara and the entirety of the defense had another plan. In that possession, Fields was sacked twice. Once by Hutchinson on second-and-10, then by Okwara on fourth-and-8. “That’s two weeks in a row where our defense has come up huge. That is a tough offense to play, that quarterback it’s everything we talked about. You can play perfect and play the game you want to play and if you just let him out four plays it will kill you, it could be four touchdowns,’’ Campbell said. “At the end of the day we bottled him up enough and forced him to have to stay in there and make some plays that’s hard for him to do. … Even though we got hurt on a couple of plays they stayed true to it.’’ Fields finished with 13 carries for 147 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He was also 12 of 20 for 167 yards, two passing touchdowns and one interception.

2. Another huge play came with 3:14 left and the Lions needing a touchdown. On third-and-8 from Detroit’s 42, Jared Goff connected with wide receiver Tom Kennedy for a 44-yard gain getting them to Chicago’s 14-yard line. Two plays later Jamaal Williams ran in for the game-winning touchdown. “It doesn’t shock me or surprise me that TK came up with a big play. He’s there when needed and that was big for us,’’ Campbell said.

3. Jeff Okudah’s interception and return for the touchdown early in the fourth was also key. (Notably, Okudah and Fields are both Ohio State products.) “Our defense came up big. When we desperately needed a takeaway we get that and we get points, Jeff (Okudah) makes a heck of a play,’’ Campbell said.

4. The offense had struggled a bit in the win over the Packers a week ago, but came back to life in Chicago. Goff finished 19 of 26 for 236 yards and one touchdown. His only interception was negated by a Bears penalty. “I thought Goff threw the ball well today, it wasn’t perfect all the time but I thought he was feeling it,’’ Campbell said. “He made some pivotal throws when we absolutely needed them. I thought he played quarterback for us very well and, there again, when we needed a huge drive he made some monster plays.’’

5. Over so many losses during so many years, the Lions have shot themselves in the foot with penalties. Not on Sunday. “As a whole our team played very disciplined today overall. We ended up with two penalties, their penalties really helped us,’’ Campbell said. Indeed the Bears were called for nine penalties costing them 86 yards. Also, another tried-and-true method of shooting oneself in the foot is turnovers. The Lions never turned the ball over on Sunday.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Lions only went for it on fourth down once and converted it. That was a fourth-and-2 from the Bears’ 2 in the second quarter. Goff connected with tight end Brock Wright for the score. … Alex Anzalone led the defense with 10 tackles, one pass defense and on forced fumble. Hutchinson had eight tackles and one sack. Julian Okwara had a pair of sacks. … The Bears finished with 258 rushing yards compared to just 95 for the Lions. But Detroit had 228 passing yards compared to 150 for Chicago.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Next up: Lions (3-6) at N.Y. Giants (7-2) at 1 p.m., on Sunday, Nov. 20. The Giants topped the Texans 24-16 on Sunday.)

Lions defense makes one more play, solidifies 15-9 win over Packers

DETROIT — One more play, that’s what Lions coach Dan Campbell always preaches. Apparently the team was listening because on Sunday, against the NFC North division rival Green Bay Packers, the Lions dug deep and did just that.

It led to a 15-9 win that broke a five game losing streak for the 2-6 Lions. It was the fifth straight loss for Green Bay (3-6).

“I’m proud of our guys. They just don’t go away. They just, they believe they can win every week. They put it in and we made one more play today,’’ Campbell said. “We made one more play than they did to win the game.’’

Campbell gave defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn the game ball.

While the offense scored enough to win, it was the defense that forced three turnovers that was the difference.

“(Glenn) coaches his heart out and he put everything into it, as he always does, and those guys responded,’’ Campbell said.. “We knew we needed takeaways today. A minimum of two is what we talked about, and  Kerby Joseph came up big. Hutch (Aidan Hutchinson) got one. But as a whole, that defense, man, they rose up. You know, I thought we played aggressive. I did think we challenged on the perimeter.’’

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (3-6) had no answers. Rodgers, who had four interceptions in the first eight games, had three on Sunday and all were in the Red Zone. Two were by rookie safety Kerby Joseph and the other was by rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson.

The Packers had other chances to score. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter Green Bay got the ball back at their own 43 after the Lions failed to convert on a fourth-and-3. Two minutes is a lifetime in the NFL so time wasn’t an issue, the Lions defense was. After converting a fourth-and-2 with a 32-yard pass to Samori Toure, the Packers were at Detroit’s 17-yard line. Four incomplete passes later — again, thanks to sterling defense —, Lions quarterback Jared Goff took a knee for the win.

“Well look, I just think it’s – look, I felt like we had a good plan for (Rodgers). And just how we wanted to play, look, you have to disguise. I mean you have to. And he’ll take it all the way down to the wire to get a bead on what you’re doing. And then, if you have an opportunity, you have to make the most of it, and we did that today,’’ Campbell said.

Leading up to Sunday, Campbell had fired defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant on Tuesday and Brad Holmes had traded tight end T.J. Hockenson for draft picks. Still Campbell was able to get his guys to focus on getting the win.

The Lions got on the board first just before halftime when Goff connected with tight end Shane Zykstra, who was wide-open, from one yard out for a score. Jamaal Williams ran it in for the 2-point conversion. 

Rodgers connected with Allen Lazard for a 20-yard touchdown play, but the two-point conversion failed thanks to a pass breakup from Lions corner Jeff Okudah. So the LIons held an 8-6 lead. 

Early in the fourth quarter, on a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, rookie tight end James Mitchell caught his first career touchdown. That gave Detroit a 15-6 edge. The Packers’ Mason Crosby kicked a 25-yard field goal. And that was it.

After the win on Sunday, the workhorse Campbell looked emotionally drained.

“Of course it feels good. I’ll be honest with you, I’m exhausted, so like I want to go home, put the feet up, drink a beer. So it feels real good. I’m just proud of them. I really am. I’m proud of our coaches. I’m proud of the players,’’ Campbell said. “I’m proud of everybody because everybody puts a lot of work into it. I know it’s only two (wins), but my gosh man. And there again, to see, end of the game, man, one stop, our defense comes through. I just think we need that, we needed that.’’

NOTES: Safety Kerby Joseph, who ended the game in concussion protocol, had a breakout game with 10 tackles (five solo), three pass defenses and two interceptions. He became the first Lions rookie to produce a two-interception game since S Devon Mitchell in 1986 and the first Lions safety to record a two-interception game since S Louis Delmas in 2013. … Linebacker Derrick Barnes had a career-high 12 tackles (four solo), one tackle for loss, one pass defense and one  sack. He is the first Lions linebacker since Julian Peterson in 2010 to produce a game with at least 10 tackles, one pass defense and a sack. … Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson logged two assisted tackles, one pass defense and one interception. The first-round pick became the Lions’ fourth rookie defensive lineman to record an interception, joining Ndamukong Suh (2010), Jim Doran (1951) and Thurman McGraw (1950). He joins Suh as the only Lions rookies to produce at least 4.5 sacks and one interception in a season. … The Lions now have 1,073 rushing yards through the first eight games of the season. This marks their most rushing yards through the first eight games of any season since 1998.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

(Next up: Lions (2-6) at Bears (3-6), at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13)