Detroit — Coach Jim Caldwell was uncharacteristically jovial following the Detroit Lions’ 26-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, a victory that kept his team in first place in the NFC North at 6-4 heading into an important clash with the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving.
Maybe it’s easier to be relaxed when your team doesn’t have to rely on some late-game heroics to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Or maybe it was because the defense and special teams rose to the occasion when the team’s offense couldn’t get anything going much of the day.
“During the course of the season, you’re going to have to win a football game a lot of different ways,” Caldwell said. “It can’t just be the offense. Sometimes it’s going to be your defense, sometimes it’s going to be your kick game combined with it.”
The Lions offense accounted for fewer than 150 yards and three points through three quarters, but game-altering touchdowns by the defense and special teams put the Lions in position to earn the win once the offense finally started clicking in the fourth quarter.
After a sluggish start, both teams got on the board thanks to Lions return man Andre Roberts.
Late in the first quarter, while attempting to make a fair catch, Roberts muffed a punt giving the ball back to the Jaguars in the red zone. But a stand by the Lions defense forced the visitors to settle for a 27-yard field goal.
Roberts made up for the blunder, returning the next attempt 55 yards for a score. Kicker Matt Prater missed the extra point, putting the Lions up, 6-3.
“I was thinking in my mind not to press, but you know, it just kind of happened,” Roberts said.
While the Lions squandered possession after possession in the first half, going three-and-out on four consecutive drives, the Jaguars regained the lead with a seven-play, 54-yard series capped by a three-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson. The Jaguars also missed the extra point, limiting the edge to three points, 9-6.
The Lions finally got something going at the end of the first half. Back-to-back passes to Golden Tate and Theo Riddick to start the drive more than doubled the team’s offensive output to that point. Riddick caught three passes on the 67-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard Prater field goal that sent the teams to the locker rooms tied at nine.
With the offense struggling, it was the defense that came up with a big play to open the second half. On third down, Bortles attempted to find receiver Marqise Lee, but the pass was deflected by cornerback Nevin Lawson. The ball popped into the air and was intercepted by safety Rafael Bush. A high school running back, Bush weaved effortlessly through traffic, returning it 39 yards for a touchdown, putting the Lions up 16-9.
Tight end talks about his two keys plays that gave the Lions the lead in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 26-19 win at Ford Field.
“I was just running to the ball like we do every day at practice,” Bush said. “We got our hands on a lot of balls this week in practice and it kind of correlated in that game, so I credit that to preparation this week.
The Jaguars took control back by scoring on their next two possessions, first a 52-yard field goal by Jason Myers, followed by a lengthy touchdown drive where Bortles steered the team 87 yards in nine plays. Lee beat cornerback Johnthan Banks on a go route down the sideline for 29 yards, setting the Jaguars up in the red zone, and finished the series with a three-yard leaping touchdown over Darius Slay.
The Lions offense looked to finally find a spark at the end of the third quarter when quarterback Matthew Stafford connected with Roberts for a 44-yard gain, but Tate fumbled the ball to the Jaguars on the ensuing snap.
But the defense came up with another big stop, forcing a three-and-out, and the Lions shook off the turnover when Stafford found tight end Eric Ebron for a 61-yard pass deep down the sideline, setting up a one-yard touchdown run on an end-around to Ebron with 10 minutes remaining.
“Minnesota used it on us before we could use it,” Caldwell said. “We’ve had it a while, been working at it for a few weeks.”
After the defense forced another three-and-out, Stafford went back to work, running nearly eight minutes off the clock with a 15-play drive that ended with a 43-yard Prater field goal.
Stafford finished 24-for-33 for 278 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also gets credit for another game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, his franchise-record sixth this season and 26th of his career.
The Jaguars had a final possession with 26 seconds remaining, but their hopes were squashed when safety Tavon Wilson intercepted Bortles. It was the Jacksonville’s third interception of the game.