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Copeland is Lions’ latest surprise defensive star

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Detroit — Throughout the Lions’ three-game home stand, a different player has stepped up and made a game-changing play on defense.

On Sunday, it was backup defensive end Brandon Copeland’s turn.

Copeland forced a crucial takeaway in the red zone on Washington’s second possession that helped the Lions prevail, 20-17, and win their third straight at Ford Field.

With Washington facing a first-and-goal at the Detroit 7-yard line in the first quarter, running back Matt Jones picked up 5 yards and was nearing the end zone before Copeland came from behind and jarred the ball loose.

“I think (linebacker) Kyle (Van Noy) held him up and… it looked like an opportunity,” Copeland said. “I know he had already gotten some yards, so while he was being held up it looked like we had him pretty secure and I was just like, might as well try to punch the ball out and see what happens.”

Jones fumbled the ball into the end zone and safety Tavon Wilson was able to race over and fall on it, securing the turnover and keeping Washington off the scoreboard.

“The defensive line did all the dirty work,” Wilson said. “The ball came out and I was just hustling and was able to get the recovery.

“It was definitely a big turnover because they didn’t come out of that drive with any points and how many points did we win by? We won by three points, so it’s obviously big because if they got three there, then it’s a tie ballgame, overtime and we’re still playing.”

In the Week 5 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, cornerback Darius Slay forced a fumble and came up with an interception in the final three minutes.

In last week’s win over the Los Angeles Rams, safety Rafael Bush corralled a victory-sealing interception in the final minute.

Copeland said this week it was just a matter of who was going to be the next guy to make a play when they have an opportunity.

“As a guy, my role is very flexible,” Copeland said. “It’s awesome to just come on the sideline and everyone is cheering.

“I’m just glad we got the W, first and foremost, and then looking back at film and looking at what you could’ve done better. I’m just happy and I’ll be sleeping a little easier tonight knowing that I got to help the team close out this home streak.”

Copeland’s forced fumble wasn’t the only key play on defense. Defensive tackle Khyri Thornton helped create another takeaway in the third quarter with the Lions leading, 10-3.

On a third-and-1 at the Detroit 34, Thornton blew up a Washington run play and forced a fumble that defensive end Kerry Hyder recovered. Thornton pushed center Spencer Long back into quarterback Kirk Cousins, who stumbled to the ground as he handed the ball off to Jones.

As Jones bobbled the exchange and tried to secure the ball, Thornton twisted him to the ground as the ball came loose.

“I got off the block to try and make a tackle on (Jones) and the ball just kind of bounced to me kind of like a ground ball and I just scooped it up,” Hyder said. “Turnovers is one of those things that usually they don’t come or they come in bunches. It’s one of those games and we’re just glad to get on the other side of it.”

After struggling to create turnovers early in the season, the Lions have forced five takeways — and only committed one turnover — during their three-game win streak.

“At the end of the game, you look back and five or six plays can change the difference in the game,” Copeland said. “You just never know when that play is or which play it is until you look back on the game.

“Every time you’re out there, you just try to make sure you do your job, hit the right gap and all of us on the field are trying to do that. You never know what play is going to be. Fortunately we made it and came out on the right end of it.”

Roberts’ redemption

Receiver Andre Roberts was hoping to make a play or two against his former team.

His first opportunity came during a first-and-20 on the Lions’ third drive. Quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted Roberts down the right sideline and he dropped what would’ve been a first-down catch.

The Lions were able to muster a field goal later in the possession to take a 3-0 lead, but Roberts didn’t have the ball thrown his way again until the Lions’ winning drive in the final minute.

The second time around, though, Roberts was able to haul in a 20-yard reception to give the Lions a first down at the Washington 18 and help set up Stafford’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.

“You can’t live in the past,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of tough when you drop the ball early, especially as a receiver, but you hope that you have another opportunity and fortunately I did.”