Detroit — Jim Caldwell doesn't do fist pumps the way his predecessor did.
But this was a big play, and after Jason Jones raised his hand, once in desperation and then again in celebration, his coach couldn't help but join him.
The Lions — and their playoff hopes — were in need of a lift, and they got one late Sunday from their worn-out defense.
And hours after their former head coach lent them a hand — as Jim Schwartz's defense stymied the front-running Green Bay Packers in Buffalo — one of the players he brought to Detroit last season helped swat away fears this Lions team was about to give it right back.
Jones' crucial fourth-quarter sack and blocked field goal rescued the Lions from themselves Sunday in a 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. And for a Detroit native who got his NFL start playing for Schwartz in Tennessee, well, this was the kind of full-circle homecoming he'd had in mind.
Last year, his season was cut painfully short, thanks to a ruptured patellar tendon in Week 3. But a year later, Jones, a versatile 6-foot-5 lineman, is a key contributor to a defensive front that's building a reputation as the league's best.
"It definitely means a whole lot for me just to be back here," said Jones, who'll have his jersey retired at his old high school, Southfield-Lathrup, at a basketball game tonight.
"I experienced (the Lions' losing) when I was younger. So just to be a part of this — and what we can bring to this city — it's so important right now. Our fans, they want it. We want it."
And, oh, man, you could tell he wanted a piece of that field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter Sunday. Jones felt he'd come close on a 53-yard miss by kicker Blair Walsh on the Vikings' first possession of the game. ("I got back there pretty easily," he said.) John Bonamego, the Lions special teams coordinator, saw it, too, telling him he just needed to "attack harder" the next time.
That time finally came with the Vikings still clinging to a 14-13 lead, and lining up for Walsh's 26-yard attempt with 7:46 to play. Walsh was a perfect 22-for-22 on attempts under 30 yards in his three-year NFL career, but Lions center Dominic Raiola sensed it as well, telling quarterback Matthew Stafford the block was coming.
Defense to depend on
Jones delivered, reaching a hand up to get a piece of Walsh's kick before getting mobbed by his teammates as they stormed off the field.
"It was huge," said Caldwell, whom the Fox TV cameras caught in a rare show of emotion on the sideline. "That was huge."
So was the sequence that preceded it, though. The Vikings were threatening to put the game away, marching downfield on what would end up an 18-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up more than 11 minutes on the clock.
But after another Kyle Rudolph catch gave Minnesota first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, the Lions defense finally responded. Ben Tate was tackled for a loss by safety Glover Quin on a blitz. Then Jones hauled down quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for a 10-yard sack, forcing a fumble on the play that the Vikings recovered. And after the Vikings came up short on third down, the Lions managed to escape it all still trailing by a lone point.
Turns out, it was just enough, because the offense sputtered for most of the afternoon. Stafford found just enough of a rhythm after that late defensive stand to get the Lions in position for Matt Prater's 33-yard field goal with 3:38 left. But they managed just 233 yards all day and finished with a season-low 50 plays from scrimmage, which only added to the workload for Jones and his pals.
Still, as running back Joique Bell noted afterward, this is a defense "that you can always depend on."
'We can taste it'
Sunday, it was pair of second-quarter interceptions by Quin and Darius Slay that allowed the Lions to steady themselves after an ugly start. And then when it really mattered, the defense did the job in the fourth quarter.
"We've got so many playmakers on our defense, you don't know who's gonna step up every game," said Jones, who also forced an errant throw by Bridgewater to start the Vikings' last-ditch drive with 45 seconds left. "And the way we're playing, we're very confident right now."
Well, not so confident that they're above crossing their fingers, however. Jones was a bystander a year ago, but he remembered the end of that Monday night loss to Baltimore all too vividly. The one where Justin Tucker's late 61-yard field goal effectively dashed the Lions' playoff hopes.
"He kicked it straight through," Jones recalled. "So, you know, anything's possible in this league."
Which is why he admits to thinking, as Walsh attempted a 68-yarder on the final play: "Miss it, miss it. Please, please."
Thanks to Sunday's results, the Lions now find themselves tied with the Packers again atop the NFC North, in control of their own destiny.
"We can taste it, man," Jones said. "It's right there in front of us."
Now they just have to reach up and grab it.