Lions ground Eagles, halt 3-game skid

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Lions’ season-long search for a complete game continues, but a gift-wrapped turnover in the closing minutes allowed the team to escape with a 24-23 victory Sunday over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.

Looking to run out the clock up two points with under three minutes remaining, Eagles running back Ryan Mathews fumbled. The ball was jarred loose by Lions cornerback Darius Slay and recovered near the sideline by defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker.

“We knew they were going to run the ball, so we were being a lot more aggressive,” Slay said. “I just came up there and I stuck him pretty good.”

Seven plays later, keyed by a 27-yard completion from quarterback Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate on a deep crossing pattern, kicker Matt Prater knocked down a 29-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.

BOX SCORE: Lions 24, Eagles 23

“It was, perhaps, one of the better anticipatory passes that you’ll see,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “It took a little bit of anticipation, but those two have gotten to know each other pretty well.”

Slay sealed the victory by intercepting rookie quarterback Carson Wentz’s on the first play of the ensuing drive, a deep ball intended for wide receiver Nelson Agholor. It was the first interception of Wentz’s career.

“It’s not necessarily designed (to go deep), but the opportunity was there,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “Detroit did a nice job depending the actual first and second progression on the play. … It was worth a shot.”

The Eagles (3-1) came into the game with the league’s best scoring defense, but the Lions (2-3) had no issues carving up the unit in the first half, driving for three consecutive touchdowns and jumping out to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.

But Detroit nearly gave the game away as Philadelphia chiseled away, finally taking the lead on a 49-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal with 6:40 remaining.

Stafford was brilliant in the first half, completing 11-of-15 passes for 122 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, leading scoring drives of 75, 80 and 75 yards.

Running back Theo Riddick shouldered the load out the backfield, running the ball 11 times times for 49 yards and catching six passes for 33 yards and two scores.

Riddick got the Lions on the board early, catching a one-yard pass in the flat to put the Lions up 7-0. He extended the advantage to 14-0, taking a screen pass and weaving 17 yards between blocks by guard Larry Warford and wide receiver Marvin Jones.

After failing to score on their opening possession for the first time this season, the Eagles put together their own lengthy scoring drive, going 80 yards on nine plays. Wentz completed all five of his throws, including a one-yard toss to running back Matthews to cap the action.

The Lions punched right back, with Stafford finding Jones in the back of the end zone to push the lead back up to 14, 21-7. The big play on the drive came when Stafford successful converted a fourth-and-1 with a quarterback sneak at the Lions’ 47-yard line.

“I love it,” Stafford said. “As a player, you just want an opportunity to stay out there to make the play to win the game or keep the drive alive.”

But the Lions offense went ice cold, gaining 19 yards their first four possessions of the second half.

“They just played better than we played,” Caldwell said. “Everybody talks about adjustments, and oftentimes nothing changes in terms of what you do schematically. It’s just guys are making tackles and maybe we’re missing tackles, or we’re blocking people or we turn a couple guys loose.”

The Eagles got a field goal before the half, before taking the opening possession of the third quarter 75 yards in nine plays. Wentz found slot receiver Josh Huff on a slant from one-yard out to pull the Eagles within four, 21-17.  The Eagles were aided by two missed tackles on the drive by Detroit linebackers, resulting in first-down gains.

On the ensuing possession, Stafford fumbled the ball back to the Eagles deep in Lions territory. Attempting to escape pressure, Stafford scrambled up the middle, but lost his grip on the football. The Lions was able to limit the damage, holding the Eagles to a short field goal.

“I had two hands on it, was turning one hand to squeeze it, tuck it and run,” Stafford said. “It just came out. That one beat up. I was pretty ticked off about it.”

The Lions managed to maintain a one-point lead as the teams traded punts for three possessions, before the Eagles drove into position for Sturgis’ 49-yarder.

Detroit responded by going three-and-out and punting it back to the Philadelphia with a little more than five minutes remaining, before Matthews’ fumble.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Lions, who will host the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field next week with an opportunity to climb back to .500.

Twitter: @justin_rogers

Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Plenty of honor-roll performances