Bob Wojnowski, Justin Rogers and John Niyo break down the Detroit Lions' 31-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers. The Detroit News
If Bob Quinn was smiling as he walked through the Lions’ locker room, it was hard to tell. The Lions’ general manager was busy, no doubt, assessing the list of injuries that seemed to mount Sunday just as Aaron Rodgers was trying to mount another one of his epic comebacks.
But this was a good day for Quinn and the team he’s trying to build in Detroit, even beyond the final result — a 31-23 victory over the division rival Packers at Ford Field.
It was another validation for some of the moves he’s made here, before and after hiring his own head coach, Matt Patricia, to run the team.
There were contributions big and small Sunday from Quinn’s last two draft classes, and critical plays from some of his free-agent acquisitions as well, particularly as the Lions took a 24-0 halftime lead.
Rookie Kerryon Johnson started and finished his day with explosive plays, while veteran LeGarrette Blount added a couple goal-line scores. Kenny Golladay had another big receiving afternoon, including a fourth-quarter touchdown that helped put the game out of reach.
And a trio of new additions — rookie Da’Shawn Hand, waiver-wire pickup Romeo Okwara and free agent Devon Kennard — combined for four sacks and two critical turnovers that led to 10 points in the first half.
So while the game was hardly a masterpiece for the Lions — the Packers piled up a whopping 521 yards and 30 first downs and never punted Sunday — it’s still a much-needed win heading into the bye week. And it’s still progress, at least in this respect.
'They're growing up'
This is Quinn’s roster by now, without question or excuses, after 34 months on the job. Even the numbers say so now. In last week’s gut-punch loss at Dallas, players Quinn drafted or signed accounted for 78 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and 68 percent of the defensive snaps. (The draft picks alone accounted for 40 percent and 32 percent of the totals.)
Sunday, the numbers were probably similar, and this time the contributions from some of the youngsters were enough to put the Lions over the top. Heck, even second-year cornerback Teez Tabor had a positive play while getting picked on Sunday — winning a 1-on-1 battle with Jimmy Graham on a goal-line incompletion — before leaving with an injury.
That’s a fact that certainly wasn’t lost on veteran defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who was engaged in some good-natured heckling of Hand, the rookie defensive end, as he conducted a postgame interview a few lockers away.
“They’re growing up,” Francois said. “Now they understand their role. They know what they need to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie, second-year or third-year player, (Hand) knows his role. And I’m happy that he’s coming along when we need him to. Any rookie that’s gonna do their job at this point in the season, it’s a blessing to us.”
Sunday, it felt particularly so, as Hand — a fourth-round pick who is now a starter after four NFL games — pounced on the fumble he caused with a strip sack of Rodgers at the Packers’ 29-yard line with less than a minute to play in the first half.
“I just wanted to get the ball back for the offense, so they could score,” Hand said.
And they did, four plays later, as Matthew Stafford connected with Marvin Jones Jr. for what proved to be the winning score in the end, as Green Bay rallied with three second-half touchdowns and a late field goal from Mason Crosby at the end of his horrific day.
“It’s not perfect — it never is when you play a team like that,” Patricia said afterward.
But in this league, you take what you’re given, no questions asked. And in the case of young players, you keep giving them opportunities, which is what the Lions are doing more and more, it seems.
Golladay’s big day would’ve been even bigger if not for a 46-yard touchdown catch that called back for a penalty on the game’s opening drive. But as it was, he was targeted nine times and finished with a team-high 98 yards, including an impressive red-zone touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter. On second-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Golladay came off the line and tossed aside cornerback Kevin King, who not coincidentally was selected 63 picks ahead of him in last year’s draft.
Asked if he could’ve made that play a year ago, Golladay answered in the affirmative. But clearly he has made strides since making an injury-interrupted splash as a rookie. And it’s not a stretch to suggest he has emerged as the Lions’ No. 1 receiver — “The relationship definitely is building,” Golladay said — though Stafford is quick to note it’s really a three-headed monster — Golladay joining forces with Golden Tate and Jones — that makes this offense so dangerous.
“This is just a game of matchups,” Stafford said. “Last week, GT went for 100-plus, this week Kenny had a big one. Marv will have a big one next week. That’s what makes this offense difficult to defend — we have a lot of guys that can make plays.”
Still, it’s worth noting that Golladay and Johnson accounted for seven of the Lions’ 10 longest plays from scrimmage Sunday. And that’s all the more reason why Lions fans — and probably Quinn himself — were holding their collective breath after Johnson twisted his ankle.
Also worth mentioning: A week after Patricia and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took some flak — too much, quite frankly — for Johnson’s limited touches, the rookie had three carries and a pass reception on the scripted opening drive.
“Each game you get a little bit more settled in, but each game is a different challenge,” said Johnson, who finished with 12 carries for 70 yards. “Each defense is different, each defense has their own philosophies. But, overall, you start getting used to the pressure, getting used to the stakes better that go on in this league, and you just go out and perform.”
And the more they do, the better Quinn’s moves look.