Chargers, with 30 straight points, shred Lions defense
San Diego — The Lions' worst defensive performance during in 2014 came when they allowed 439 yards to the eventual world-champion New England Patriots. On Sunday, they gave up 483 yards in a season-opening loss to the San Diego Chargers, the first sign that this group is different than the one that ranked second in the NFL last season.
"Last year means nothing right now," defensive end Darryl Tapp said after a 33-28 loss in which the Lions allowed 30 straight points.
The Lions struggled to make adjustments defensively as the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers systematically picked them apart with short passes. Several defensive players struggled, including linebacker Stephen Tulloch, safety James Ihedigbo and cornerback Rashean Mathis, and Mathis especially has work to do as he was the primary man in coverage on receiver Keenan Allen, who torched the Lions for 15 catches for 166 yards.
Rivers went 35 of 42 for 404 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Danny Woodhead ran for two touchdowns, tight end Ladarius Green had 74 receiving yards, receiver Stevie Johnson had 82 and the Lions squandered a 21-3 first-half lead.
Yes, the Lions were missing star linebacker DeAndre Levy was out with a hip injury, but nobody used that as an excuse for the breakdowns on defense.
"We're banking on this being the asterisk and not the standard," Tapp said.
Matthew Stafford finished 19 of 30 for 246 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Lions, and he and Calvin Johnson connected just twice for 39 yards. Golden Tate had just four catches for 24 yards, and the Lions gained just 302 yards.
After the game, Johnson, Stafford and Caldwell all said the Lions were simply looking for the open man, which is why their top receiver had just four targets and two catches.
"We're just trying to take what the defense gives us," Stafford said. "And they were doing a good job of playing two man to his side quite often, cutting to him if he was running shallow routes. They were paying a bunch of attention to him, just like all the teams do that we play. Every game is different.
"We'll find ways to get him the ball when we need to."
Rookie running back Ameer Abdullah's highlights began early for the Lions as he turned his first NFL carry into a 24-yard touchdown, racing up the middle of the defense and shaking safety Eric Weddle to cap an 80-yard scoring drive at the start of the game.
The defense had a strong start, too, forcing a three-and-out by the Chargers when defensive end Phillip Hunt sacked Rivers on third down.
The Lions led 21-10 at the break, but the Chargers were actually the superior team statistically, outgaining Detroit 206 yards to 133. But the Lions were incredibly opportunistic as they forced two interceptions, including one Glover Quin returned for a 31-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Quin led the NFL with seven interceptions last season, but this was his first pick-6. It was the Lions' first interception return for a touchdown in Week 1 since Dre Bly had one in 2003, and it gave them a 14-3 lead.
A 14-yard punt return by Tate set up the Lions at the San Diego 46 later in the quarter, and Lance Moore's first catch with the Lions went for 22 yards and converted a third down. On the next play, Stafford hit Eric Ebron for an 18-yard touchdown down the seam as he was running wide open, giving the Lions a 21-3 lead with 8:49 left in the first half.
The Chargers, though, drove methodically on the ensuing drive. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Ihedigbo helped, too, as he hit Allen in the head on a tackle, turning a 19-yard catch into a net gain of 34 yards. A few plays later, defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker's encroachment penalty converted a third-and-1 for San Diego, and Danny Woodhead scored on a 9-yard run the next play, cutting the Lions' lead to 21-10 with 5:02 left in the half.
San Diego threatened on its next drive, too, and reached the Detroit 9 with 12 seconds left in the half. However, on first-and-goal, Rivers underthrew Malcom Floyd on a fade in the right corner of the end zone, and Darius Slay easily made the interception, securing the Lions' 21-10 halftime lead.
Anything the Lions did well in the first half, though, quickly became a distant memory as the Chargers continued to dominate both total yards (483-302) and time of possession (38:12 to 21:48).
To start the third quarter, the Chargers drove to a 25-yard field goal, cutting the Lions' lead to 21-13 about 5 minutes in. Then, things started to go incredibly wrong for the Lions' offense. On the fourth play of the next drive, a third down, linebacker Melvin Ingram drilled Stafford as he was throwing, and linebacker Kyle Emanuel made a diving interception at the line of scrimmage.
The Chargers didn't take advantage of that turnover as Lions defensive end Jason Jones forced a fumble by rookie running back Melvin Gordon, and Tulloch recovered.
But three plays later, Stafford gave the ball right back to San Diego, making a poor pass to Tate that cornerback Patrick Robinson intercepted with ease.
This time, San Diego scored on the third play of the possession with a 12-yard pass from Rivers to Stevie Johnson, making it a 21-20 game with 4:03 left in the third quarter.
The Lions' nightmarish offense continued as they had just four plays before punting yet again, and sure enough, the Chargers had no problem marching back down the field, scoring on a 13-yard reception by tight end Ladarius Green.
With a 26-21 lead, the Chargers lined up to go for 2, but after a delay of game penalty, they opted to try a 38-yard extra point. The miss, though, didn't come back to haunt them.
The Lions managed to drive into San Diego territory on their next possession, but the drive stalled shortly thereafter. Sam Martin's fifth punt gave the Chargers the ball again with 8:51 left, and they sealed the game on the possession that followed.
Allen continued to dominate the Lions with five catches on the drive, including a 20-yarder on third-and-19. Woodhead punched in a 1-yard run to give the Chargers a 33-21 lead with 2:37 left.
The Lions' desperation drive produced points as Theo Riddick, who had zero touches until the last drive, caught a 21-yard touchdown pass with 64 seconds left, making it a 33-28 deficit.
After the onside kick went out of bounds, the Lions' nightmare was officially over.
"There were obviously quite a few things we need to get straightened out," Caldwell said. "There's no question about that."