Lions stop Rams' Keenum when it matters most

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Lions’ defense simply couldn’t stop Rams quarterback Case Keenum.

That was until it needed to the most.

Keenum carved up the Lions by completing 84 percent of his passes (27-for-32) — and at one point 19 straight — for 321 yards and four total touchdowns, but the defense rose to the occasion on a pair of crucial possessions for the second straight week in a 31-28 win Sunday at Ford Field.

The first came late in the second quarter with the score tied at 14 and the Rams facing a third-and-goal from the Lions’ 7-yard line. Keenum completed a pass over the middle to receiver Kenny Britt but safeties Glover Quin and Rafael Bush converged to tackle him just short of the end zone, bringing up a fourth-and-goal at the 1.

Rather than kick the field goal and take the lead, Rams coach Jeff Fisher elected to go for it. But the plan backfired as defensive tackles Tyrunn Walker and Stefan Charles burst through the line and dropped running back Todd Gurley for a 1-yard loss to keep it knotted at halftime.

“That’s a big push for us defensively,” defensive end Devin Taylor said. “As a group that gives you a lot of momentum, especially going into halftime. It kind of puts a little bit of pressure on the other team, like, well, what can we do now to try and get a score at this point?”

Then after Golden Tate’s 23-yard touchdown catch tied it at 28 with 6:02 left in the fourth quarter, the Lions needed their defense to come up with another stop to give their offense a chance to take the lead.

And the defense came through, holding the Rams to a quick three-and-out that didn’t even last a minute. The Lions took advantage with a 9-play, 44-yard drive that resulted in Matt Prater’s go-ahead field goal with 1:29 left.

The Rams still had one last shot to march down the field but safety Rafael Bush quickly put an end to it with a victory-sealing interception with 1:09 remaining.

“I was just showing our Cover 2 shell look and (tight end Lance Kendricks) just came right to me and I was just like, ‘Oh, this is my play to make, here it comes.’ All I got to do is catch it,” Bush said. “So I was fortunate enough to be in that position in that particular moment. I think if anybody else had been in that position they would have done the same thing. I just made the play that came to me.”

Bush’s takeaway is the Lions’ third forced turnover in the final three minutes of the past two games, along with cornerback Darius Slay’s forced fumble and interception against the Eagles.

“It wasn’t pretty, but (the defense) did a really nice job,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “It was kind of deceiving. We did hold them below 100 yards (rushing), which was our goal. We didn’t want to let Gurley break our back, which we did. We wanted to let somebody else beat us.

“If they’re going to beat us, they’re going to beat us throwing … and when you look at Case’s numbers, I mean, they were outstanding. But if we’re going to get beat that’s how we’re going to get beat, rather than them running the ball down our throat consistently.”

‘Room to grow’

With starter Theo Riddick and rookie Dwayne Washington sidelined by injuries, newly acquired Lion Justin Forsett saw limited action in the backfield behind second-year pro Zach Zenner, who got the start.

Zenner received the majority of work, finishing with 58 yards rushing on 14 attempts and two catches for 19 yards. He was also clutch on the winning drive with back-to-back carries for 15 total yards that helped put the Lions within field-goal range for kicker Matt Prater at the two-minute warning.

Forsett’s line, however, wasn’t so pretty. He lost yardage or was stuffed for no gain on three of his five carries and finished with five yards rushing. He also dropped the only pass thrown his way.

“I feel like I was able to go out there and really understand what I was doing on the plays that I was in,” Forsett said. “I definitely would’ve liked to produce more on the ground with the opportunities but I feel good about where I am in the offense and definitely have room to grow.”

Remembering the past

The Lions honored their 1991 team, which was responsible for the franchise’s last playoff win, with a celebration at halftime.

Coincidentally, it’s also the year the Lions last hosted the Los Angeles Rams.

Tackle Lomas Brown, linebacker Chris Spielman, receiver Herman Moore and Lions’ all-time leading rusher Barry Sanders were among the 30 players on hand.

The Lions have reached the playoffs seven times since 1991, but have lost in the wild-card round each game.

Former Lion and Hall of Famer Dick Stanfel was honored in a pregame ceremony, becoming the 15th member to join team’s ring of honor, The Pride of the Lions. Stanfel played four seasons with the Lions (1952-55) and was member of 1952-53 championship teams.

There was also held a moment of silence held for former Lions Patrick Cain and Ted Karras prior to kickoff. @jamesbhawkins