Five main reasons Detroit Lions shut out Green Bay Packers to end the season

First shutout for Lions since 1996

All week the Detroit Lions players and coaches said that Sunday’s season-ending game at Green Bay was important. Then they went out and played like they meant it.

The Lions shut out the Packers, 31-0, at Lambeau Field on Sunday. It was Detroit’s first shutout since 1996. The Lions had not shut out the Packers since 1973 and it was the first time they had shut them out at Lambeau since 1970. It was also the Lions’ second sweep of the Packers in the last two seasons.

Detroit finishes 6-10 in the first year under coach Matt Patricia who deserves credit for getting the team ready to go in a somewhat meaningless game.

Five of the main reasons the Lions won:

1. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like himself from the get-go and then left in the first quarter with a concussion. DeShone Kizer, who hadn’t played since the regular season opener, stepped in but wasn’t able to put points on the board. He was 16 of 35 for 132 yards, and one interception.  It’s possible the Lions could have beaten a healthy Rodgers, but it was easier without him. Give the Lions defense credit for holding the Packers offense to zero points and just 175 total yards.

2. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, perhaps in his final game with the Lions, went to the trick-play chapter of his playbook and dialed up a fake field goal. Kicker Matt Prater made it work when tight end Levine Toilolo got open in the end zone and caught Prater’s pass for a touchdown. It gave the Lions a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Cooter also had the offense playing at a quicker tempo in the first half.

3. Matthew Stafford, who was wearing a left knee brace and has been fighting through a back injury, had his best game in weeks despite not having any of his top targets available. Stafford was 20 of 32 for 266 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 109.6 rating. Kenny Golladay (chest) was inactive. No problem — Brandon Powell (six catches, 103 yards) and Andy Jones (six for 50 yards) stepped up. But it was veteran T.J. Jones (three catches, 40 yards) who caught a pair of touchdown passes. The Lions’ offense had not scored more than 22 points since the 32-21 win at Miami on Oct. 21.

4. The Lions stuck with the run game. LeGarrette Blount (11 carries, 15 yards) struggled, but Zach Zenner had a career day with 21 carries for 93 yards and a rushing touchdown. He also caught one pass for 30 yards. Zenner had two touchdown runs negated due to holding penalties. Zenner has stepped up big in recent weeks with the absence of rookie Kerryon Johnson. Wouldn’t be surprising to see Zenner return next year. He’s a solid backup and plays well on special teams.

5. The Lions defense never quit despite the double-digit lead through most of the game. Jarrad Davis, Tavon Wilson and Kerry Hyder each had a sack. Quandre Diggs came down with his third interception of the season late in the fourth quarter.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

BONUS: Fox 2’s Jennifer Hammond tweeted that after the game she asked Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford if she was happy with the direction the team is headed under Patricia. “Yes I am,” Ford said.

 

 

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Lions running back Zach Zenner makes most of his 12 carries in win at Cardinals

Scored first touchdown in 14 monthes

Zach Zenner snapped his 14-month scoreless streak when he ran in from 1 yard out for a touchdown in Sunday’s 17-3 win over the Cardinals at Arizona. His last touchdown had been on Oct. 5, 2017, in a loss to Carolina.

It’s not that the Detroit Lions running back gets many opportunities. Typically he does not. In the other four games he’s played on offense this season he’s had a combined four carries. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Zenner’s dozen carries on Sunday were the most for him since the 2016 season when he had three games with 12 or more touches. In the final two regular season games that year he had a combined 32 carries and three touchdowns. In the playoff loss at Seattle he had 11 touches.

Seven of his 12 carries at Arizona came in a four-minute, fourth-quarter drive where the Lions were trying to eat up the clock. Zenner was responsible for 42 of the 75 yards on that drive and the touchdown that put the game out of touch for the Cardinals.

“I think Zach, again, he’s one of those guys that does a phenomenal job of just preparing and being ready to go, whatever the situation is. He goes out and plays a lot of special teams for us and he does a lot of different things that can help us win or can help us win in special teams and also on the offensive side of the ball,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on his Monday conference call. “So, certainly he had an opportunity to go out and have a couple plays, which he did really well.’’

Zenner also plays on special teams where he was in on 71 percent of the special teams snaps on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

An undrafted free agent signed in 2015, he was let go with an injury settlement in early September this year. When he wasn’t working on getting his back healthy, he was studying for his medical school entrance exam and hoping for a phone call. When his back was healed and he was ready to go, the Lions brought him back.

Good thing, since Kerryon Johnson has missed the last three games due to a knee injury. Zenner is not LeGarrette Blount or Theo Riddick, but he can be effective when he gets a chance. Funny how that goes.

Five reasons Detroit Lions beat Arizona Cardinals, 17-3

Detroit’s effective run game was key

Yikes. It was not pretty, but the Detroit Lions snapped their two-game losing streak with a 17-3 win at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Detroit’s defense was key, holding Arizona to a field goal.

When the Cardinals came within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Lions ran downfield, eating up clock and finishing with a Zach Zenner touchdown run.

Neither offense could get much going. The Lions finished with 218 total yards while it was 279 for the Cardinals.

The Lions are now 5-8 in Matt Patricia’s first season, while the Cardinals drop to 3-10.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. The injury-riddled defense was solid, holding the Cardinals to just a field goal and rattling rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. Larry Fitzgerald was held to five catches (77 yards) while running back David Johnson had just 15 carries for 49 yards. The Cardinals managed just 73 yards of offense in the first half. Detroit linebacker Jarrad Davis was a standout with a sack, two tackles for loss, one pass defense, one quarterback hit and eight tackles.

2. Cornerback Darius Slay’s interception and return for touchdown in the third quarter, gave the Lions a 10-0 cushion. It was Slay’s first career pick-six and his third interception this season. He also broke up a potential touchdown catch by Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter. It was one of his three pass defenses.

3. Matthew Stafford (15-23, 101 yards) played just well enough to win, but it was the effective running game that was key. The Lions had 122 rushing yards — led by Zach Zenner with 54 yards and LeGarrette Blount with 33 yards. Stafford’s aching back limited him in practice last week. It didn’t affect his arm strength — he threw deep downfield, but couldn’t connect on one longer than 17 yards.

4. It must say something that the Lions could win despite an incredible number of injures, most forcing players from the game. That includes Ziggy Ansah (shoulder), Da’Shawn Hand knee), Bruce Ellington (hamstring), Charles Washington (hamstring), Marcus Cooper (back), Rick Wagner (concussion), Nick Bellore, Luke Willson and Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Next man up, indeed.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. It was a win. It was kind of ugly (really dreadful in the first half) but the Lions hung in there so there’s something that should be said for it.

NEXT UP: Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9), at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 16.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving

Bears beat the Lions easily in first meeting

ALLEN PARK — When it comes to Thanksgiving, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford says he’s no different from most people.

“I just eat a ton of food like everybody else. Eat a bunch of food, relax a little bit. It’s kind of a nice little couple days off for us,’’ Stafford said.

Unlike others, before he hits the dinner table he has a football game to try to win. Stafford and the LIons have won four of the last five games on Thanksgiving, losing, 30-23, to the Vikings a year ago.

Usually players on both teams love the Turkey Day spotlight.

“It’s awesome. I grew up watching it as a Cowboys fan. I’ve been a part of it now for 10 years here. It’s cool that the city and the fans and really our team, we embrace this game, we love it, we love playing it every year,’’ Stafford said. “So, it’s just a great tradition to be a part of and obviously a lot of fun when you win it.”

It will be a first for Bears coach Matt Nagy who looks forward to the chance to play with the nation watching on Thanksgiving.

“I know I am, and this will be my first time playing a game on Thanksgiving. What better way to come out and play a game on Thanksgiving? Not all players and people get these opportunities, these chances. So, the guys will be looking forward to it and it’ll be fun,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said on a Tuesday conference call.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions will be without wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., and running back Kerryon Johnson. While Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is listed as “doubtful” which means it’s likely Chase Daniel will get the start.

Five things to watch:

1. The Lions must stop the run like they did when they lost to the Bears on Nov. 11. That day Detroit’s defense held Chicago to 54 rushing yards. Whatever that game plan was, Detroit needs to repeat in. After a horrid start on run defense, they’ve held opponents to less than 60 rushing yards for two straight weeks.

2. Don’t give up on the run game even without Kerryon Johnson (knee). Between LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner stick with the one who finds the most success as the game progresses. Don’t be surprised if it’s Zenner. The Lions only rushed for 66 yards against the Bears the last game, but part of the reason is that they were down 26-0 early. “We have a bunch of guys in that room that are talented. If they need to play more, they’ll play more. If they don’t, then we’ll roll with what we have,’’ Stafford said.

3. The Lions will be without Marvin Jones Jr., for the second straight game. Stafford was able to make the passing game work in the win over the Panthers by targeting Kenny Golladay 14 times. He finished with eight catches for 113 yards and a beauty of a touchdown. Stafford is still getting acquainted with newcomer Bruce Ellington who had six catches for 52 yards on Sunday. “I thought Bruce (did a really nice job stepping in. I don’t know how long he’s been here, maybe 10 days. So, it was really good for him to get out there and get his feet wet,’’ Stafford said.

4.  When the Lions and Bears last met, cornerback Darius Slay was on the sidelines. He’s back and that should be a huge boost. “He’s a great player. He’s been doing it for a while. I think there are a lot of different things that he does well,’’ Nagy said. “He definitely makes them better, and we know that and we have to know where he’s at at all times.”

5. Get pressure on the quarterback — likely Chase Daniel who hasn’t started a game since 2014. Trubisky was sacked just once by the Lions defense on Nov. 11. Because of Daniel’s lack of playing time, it should be easier to rattle him. The defense did a solid job against the Panthers’ Cam Newton sacking him three times, although he did pass for three touchdowns. Daniel is no Cam Newton but the defense can’t think that way.

EXTRA: In the Lions first Thanksgiving game on Nov. 29, 1934, the Bears beat the Lions, 19-16. The Lions are 8-8 against the Bears on Thanksgiving.

PREDICTION: Lions 28, Bears 21

Lions minus Slay, Lang, Willson and more as they face Bears in Chicago

Ziggy Ansah active; Zach Zenner returns

The Detroit Lions will be without several key players at Soldier Field to play the NFC North leading Chicago Bears today. Kickoff is 1 p.m.

Cornerback Darius Slay (knee) will miss first game this season. He didn’t practice all week and his status was announced on Friday.

Right guard T.J. Lang (neck) has suffered from a variety of injuries this season and also missed games in Weeks 2 and 5. The LIons announced on Friday that he wouldn’t play today.

Linebacker Eli Harold (shoulder) was added to the inactive list on Saturday.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck) and tight end Luke Willson (shoulder) will not play. They were  listed as questionable on Friday.

Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder) will play in his second game.

Running back Kerryon Johnson (ankle) was questionable but is a go.

Running back Zach Zenner, who was released in September with a back injury, was re-signed on Tuesday and is active today. Expect to see him on special teams.

Other Lions’ inactives: Wide receiver Bruce Ellington and offensive lineman Andrew Donnal.

The Lions are barely hanging in the NFC North race with a 3-5 record. Today’s game could be a turning point in the season.

Lions’ RB Zach Zenner returns: Five things to know

Healthy after snapping 2 bones in his back

ALLEN PARK >> Zach Zenner said he was actuall a little nervous for Wednesday’s practice, his first since the Lions re-signed him on Tuesday.

The running back had not been with the Lions since he signed an injury settlement and was waived on Sept. 12.

“Where I’ve always fit is whatever I’m asked to do whether it’s on special teams or offense, whatever they need,’’ said Zenner who played in eight games last season mostly on special teams.

He wasn’t done with football but he wasn’t sure if football was done with him until he got the call from Lions GM Bob Quinn.

Five things to know about Zenner:

1. First things first, he had to get healthy after a back injury. That took about six weeks which matched the settlement. He feels great now. He had snapped two bones in his back but said he was lucky it wasn’t worse. “If you’re going to break your back, that’s what you want to do,’’ Zenner said.

2. When he signed the agreement there was some talk about bringing him back. “The thing is it was so long ago, you can have whatever intentions you want but then eight weeks into the season who knows what’s going to be happening,’’ Zenner said. “I was aware of that although whether they wanted to or not who knew if they were going to be able to bring me back.’’

3. While he was away from the team he said he watched every game except two. “While I was not healthy I was enjoying being at home watching, but when I got healthy it got harder to watch because you feel like you could be out there playing and participating or at least helping out during the week at practice,’’ Zenner said on Wednesday. “Once you’re healthy that’s when it’s this is getting tougher to watch.’’

4. He was preparing for either a return to football or moving on with his life. He studied for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test.) “I took it five years ago in May so I need to retake it. Was I going to have to retake it? Yes, sucks but I have to. Spent a lot of time studying for that, still plan to take it in March or April.’’ His teammates call him “Doc” because of  his intentions to go to medical school after football. He also got to spend quality time with his wife and young son. “He is working on crawling which is exciting and terrifying,’’ Zenner said.

5. Zenner and Ameer Abdullah joined the Lions at the same time and became great friends. “He’s been my teammate my whole career. It’s tough to see him go, I wish him the best. I’ll be watching whenever I can. Great guy, great teammate,’’ Zenner said. The Lions waived Abdullah on Tuesday and the Vikings claimed him.

Detroit Lions make cuts, release initial 53-man roster

Changes will likely be made this weekend

A few surprises were included when the Lions released their list of roster cuts on Saturday to get down to an initial 53-man roster. Really, though no shockers among those no longer on the team. A few have a chance of being brought back for the practice squad but first them must clear waivers by noon on Sunday.

Here’s a look at the initial 53-man Lions roster. This will likely change through the weekend, next week and, in fact, through much of the season.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks (2): Matthew Stafford and Matt Cassel

Analysis: Jake Rudock was the odd man out. If he clears waivers, he could be brought back on the practice squad. This move was pretty much guaranteed when Cassel was signed in the spring.

Wide receivers (6): Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, T.J. Jones, Bradley Marquez and Brandon Powell.

Analysis: A little surprised to see six wide receivers on the roster, but can’t argue with the choices. Rookie Brandon Powell was a standout in camp and the preseason. Bradley Marquez quietly earned his spot on the roster. Jace Billingsley and Chris Lacy were waived with Andy Jones placed on PUP.

Tight ends (4): Luke Willson, Hakeem Valles, Michael Roberts and Levine Toilolo.

Analysis: It became clear in camp that Valles belonged on the roster in his third year, his first with the Lions. Roberts didn’t get much opportunity in his rookie season last year. He needs to take a step forward and make the most of his chances.

Running backs (5): Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick. Ameer Abdullah and FB Nick Bellore.

Analysis: Dwayne Washington was waived after struggled with a toe injury throughout camp. Zach Zenner, who injured his back in the final preseason game, was placed on injured reserve. Who will get the most work? Depends on the game and individual performance. Johnson, the second-round pick, could be something special but give him a little time.

Offensive line (10): Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, rookie Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins, Joe Dahl, Brian Mihalik and Leo Koloamatangi.

Analysis: Good depth here with 10. Only seven are active on game days. Tyrell Crosby has been effective enough to make the roster as a rookie. Koloamatangi spent last season on the practice squad in Detroit and obviously learned along the way. If the starting five stay healthy, this line should be improved over last season.

DEFENSE

Defensive line (7): Ziggy Ansah, A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams, Anthony Zettel, Kerry Hyder, Da’Shawn Hand and Ricky Jean Francois.

Analysis: Seven a low number, although it could change. Also, this is a new defense scheme and the numbers reflect that. Can this group pass rush better than they did in preseason games? That is perhaps the biggest question on defense. Francois has stepped up as a veteran leader which has been a missing ingredient since Haloti Ngata’s departure.

Linebackers (7): Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Eli Harold, Christian Jones, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Miles Killebrew and Trevor Bates.

Analysis: Harold was a late addition who could prove to be one of Bob Quinn’s better August moves. Killebrew made the move from safety and Patricia has made no secret that he loves his hard-hitting no matter where he is on the field.

Defensive backs (9): Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Quandre Diggs, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Charles Washington and Tracey Walker.

Analysis: DeShawn Shead was surprisingly waived. He was expected to vie for a starting role but a back injury held him back. Still, they could have found a way to keep him around. Washington’s play on special teams last year, helped him stay around this year. Third-round pick Tracey Walker has been impressive since the offseason.

Special teams (3): Matt Prater, Sam Martin and Don Muhlbach.

Analysis: Martin had a rough year last year coming back from a foot injury but he’s looked fine so far. Ryan Santoso got some film in the preseason game which is the best he could hope for.

The cuts:

RELEASED (VESTED VETERANS)

LB Jonathan Freeny, C Wesley Johnson, TE Sean McGrath and CB DeShawn Shead.

WAIVED

RB Dwayne Washington, DE Alex Barrett, WR Jace Billingsley, LB Freddie Bishop, WR Dontez Ford, CB Mike Ford, CB Chris Jones, WR Chris Lacy, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter, S Rolan Milligan, QB Jake Rudock, LB Darnell Sankey, P Ryan Santoso and T Dan Skipper.

PLACED ON RESERVE/INJURED

RB Zach Zenner

PLACED ON RESERVE/PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM

WR Andy Jones

TRADED

Traded T Corey Robinson to the Carolina Panthers for an undisclosed future draft selection.

WAIVED FROM RESERVE/INJURED

DT Toby Johnson