Detroit — Following an uncharacteristic first two weeks, the Lions knew their defense wasn’t quite as bad as they’d shown in the two losses to the Chargers and Vikings.
Facing Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday night, the Lions were due to have another tough chore on their hands, but handled it well, despite the 24-12 loss at Ford Field.
The defense allowed just 14 points through the first three quarters and couldn’t keep the Broncos out of the end zone on a couple of turnovers in the final period that made the final margin of victory.
“Our defense fought hard there certainly, got them off the field a number of times,” coach Jim Caldwell said, “and we just couldn’t put enough drives together to score enough points, make enough plays”
Besides a couple of big plays — both on cornerback Darius Slay — the defense didn’t allow Manning to hurt them.
On the first of those plays, a 45-yard pass play to Demaryius Thomas with five seconds remaining before halftime, Slay was in the right position but just didn’t jump high enough to be able to knock the ball away or intercept it.
“He’s in the right spot; there’s nothing you can do. It’s a great throw, great catch, great coverage,” Lions safety James Ihedigbo said. “Those are 50-50 balls; it can go either way.
“If Slay gets an interception, people say ‘Great play, bad interception by Peyton Manning before the half,’ and it goes the other way.
“That’s a perfectly thrown ball in a perfect spot.”
But Manning didn’t make a bad throw and Thomas danced into the end zone, giving the Broncos a 14-6 lead just before halftime.
The run defense was good also, allowing the Broncos just 41 yards on 19 carries, after giving up 199 yards last week to the Vikings, with 134 to Adrian Peterson.
Manning finished 31-of-42 for 313 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception. Most of his passes were underneath routes and the Lions got decent pressure on him, forcing him out of his comfort zone.
“I thought we played great. It goes back and forth in a game like this. We had plays where we got off the field on third down and they had some plays,” Ihedigbo said. “Going against Peyton Manning, you’re not going to win 100 percent of the time, but you’re going to make him second-guess and you’re going to make plays you’re supposed to make — and we did that.”
Another big pass play to Emmanuel Sanders — also over Slay — helped in the clinching drive, with a 34-yard gain. Sanders made a play on the ball and there wasn’t much Slay could do to stop it.
“Fair assessment, there are no moral victories in this league,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “As a defense, we can build off this game. We played good football, not good enough to win, but it was definitely better than the last two weeks.”