Four downs: Lions salt away victory with big drive
The Lions haven’t had many chances to seal a victory this season, but their final drive Sunday was as impressive as any of their clock-killing possessions last year.
After the defense scored a safety, the offense took over with 7 minutes and 22 seconds remaining. And from that point, the Raiders never touched the ball again as the Lions ran out the rest of the time to seal an 18-13 win.
The drive stretched across 13 plays, including two kneels by quarterback Matthew Stafford, and a 21-yard reception by running back Theo Riddick put the Lions in Raiders territory, helping give the offense confidence about scoring even if the drive ended.
“It was great,” Stafford said. “Once we got the screen to Theo and got it down into their neck of the woods, it was good to see the guys really punish them and run the ball well.”
The Lions weren’t very effective running the ball with a 3.5-yard average in the game and a 3.6-yard average on the drive. But Joique Bell had a 5-yard run on third down and another 11-yard run, and Ameer Abdullah added a 7-yard run to help keep the clock and the chains moving.
After the game, right guard Larry Warford didn’t even realize the final drive lasted so long, perhaps a sign of the team’s focus.
“That was 7 minutes!” he said after thinking about it. “Damn, dude. That was pretty good.”
One play nobody forgot about was Golden Tate’s over-the-shoulder catch on a 66-yard punt by Marquette King in the fourth quarter.
“He looked like Willie Mays,” coach Jim Caldwell said of Tate. “Willie Mays made the catch in the Polo Grounds.”
Not only did Tate make the running catch, but after turning around, he gained 14 yards to give the Lions the ball at the 26. Without the catch at the 12, the Lions could’ve been on the wrong end of the late field-position battle.
“He used to play outfield,” Stafford said of Tate. “I’m sure he’s tracked a ball or two over the top, and he made a good play.
And because Tate made that catch, the Lions ended up with the upper hand in terms of field position in the fourth quarter.
The Lions ultimately had to punt after a three-and-out, but with the punt coming from the Detroit 31, Sam Martin boomed a 57-yarder, his longest of the day.
With the refs calling Oakland for an illegal block above the waist, the Raiders started the next drive at their own 8. On the first play, they moved back to the 4 as Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead drew a holding just outside the end zone, though it could’ve been a safety and Caldwell thought it was.
Two plays later, the Lions left no doubt about the safety as defensive end Ziggy Ansah drew a holding in the end zone. He was so sure about the penalty that he signaled for a safety before even seeing the flag thrown on left tackle Donald Penn.
“Thank goodness we got the second one,” Caldwell said.
The Lions have been reluctant to discuss their blocking scheme this season as the offensive line has struggled significantly.
But after a game in which the Lions ran for 109 yards and Stafford took just four hits, it’s clear the more simplified blocking demands of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and offensive line coach Ron Prince have helped the past couple of games.
Warford wouldn’t point to it as a reason for success, but he did acknowledge the Lions did less zone blocking Sunday than in previous games.
“Obviously, we made some changes offensively during the bye week especially and tried to just give (the linemen) direct orders and go play from there,” Stafford said. “And I’ll handle the rest of it — hots and sights and all that kind of stuff.
“They’re not having to do as much, probably, up front and they’re able to focus and just play. Block the guy in front of them and play.”