Miami nice! Lions claw back to .500 behind stellar ground game
Miami Gardens, Fla. — The only thing hotter than the south Florida sun on Sunday was the Detroit Lions’ ground game. Led by rookie running back Kerryon Johnson’s big day, the Lions churned out 248 yards on the ground in a 32-21 win over the Miami Dolphins.
"I thought our guys up front dominated," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "They played great. I thought our receivers in the back end blocked well, and then obviously our backs were awesome. ...I haven't been a part of too many of those and it was a whole lot of fun."
The Lions (3-3) took an early lead, scoring a touchdown on their opening possession, and led coast-to-coast for the team’s first road win this season.
The Dolphins (4-3) got the ball first, but went three-and-out after defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois split two blockers for a sack. Taking over at their own 36-yard line, the Lions needed just six plays to find pay dirt.
Johnson kick-started the possession with a 24-yard run around the left edge, foreshadowing his personal-best 158-yard performance.
"Especially when you don't get touched," Johnson said. "I didn't get touched until I got tackled. In my mind, that's great. That means I know what those guys up front are doing and our game plan is going to stay true to itself."
The drive was nearly derailed by a 15-yard chop block penalty against right tackle Rick Wagner, but Stafford dug the Lions out of the hole with a 26-yard completion to TJ Jones down the sideline.
The Lions scored using well-designed misdirection, as multiple Dolphins defenders committed to both play-action to Johnson and wide receiver Kenny Golladay running a route to the opposite flat as tight end Michael Roberts leaked free behind the secondary for a 15-yard score and 7-0 lead with 9:12 left in the first.
"That was all game planning, honestly," Roberts said. "They had been poor in that play and we just exploited their weakness."
After trading punts the remainder of the opening quarter, the Lions extended their lead early in the second on a short Matt Prater field goal after Johnson broke free for a 71-yard gain. It was the longest Lions run in seven years, when Jahvid Best scored on an 88-yard romp against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field.
Detroit’s drive stalled in the red zone after LeGarrette Blount was stopped on third-and-1, forcing the Lions to settle for the Prater chip shot to pull ahead 10-0 with 12:34 left in the second.
The Dolphins got on the board with the ensuing possession, but also lost playmaking slot receiver Albert Wilson on the drive, when he suffered a leg injury getting tripped from behind on a 25-yard gain.
"It definitely hurts us," Dolphins quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "Albert is a tremendous football player. He brings a lot of energy to this offense. He brings a spark. Any time you get the football in his hands, he might make a big play for us, so we definitely missed him."
The Dolphins worked into the red zone on a 27-yard pass to rookie tight end Mike Gesicki on third-and-1. A hands to the face infraction on cornerback Nevin Lawson gave the Dolphins a fresh set of downs and Osweiler took advantage, connecting with Kenny Stills in the back corner of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 5.
But the Lions were able to counterpunch with another touchdown before the half. After Stafford connected with tight end Luke Willson on third down to extend the drive, he found Roberts open — running a similar corner route as his earlier touchdown — for 29 yards down to the 2. Two plays later, Blount waltzed into the end zone behind a big block from fullback Nick Bellore.
Up 17-7 at halftime, the Lions took the opening possession of the second half and drove deep into Dolphins territory once again. A penalty on guard Frank Ragnow wiped out a touchdown pass to Golladay and red zone struggles struck again, including a rare drop by Golden Tate just short of the goal line, setting up Prater’s second field goal to make it 20-7 with 8:32 left in the third.
Miami quickly got it back to within one score, taking advantage of Detroit’s susceptibility to big plays on the ground. Running back Kenyan Drake found a lane around the left side of his line and raced untouched down the sideline until he was tackled into the end zone for a 54-yard score.
"We've got to clear that up," Francois said. "If we cleared that up, we'd have had a good game (against) the run. Sometimes, when you don't execute, a team like that is going to find a way to get int the end zone and they did."
But again, the Lions answered. An 18-yard run by Johnson, 25-yard defensive pass interference penalty committed against Marvin Jones and a 15-yard Blount carry set up Roberts' second touchdown of the game, a 4-yard out from Stafford.
Detroit failed to convert the two-point conversion, leaving it 26-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
"We couldn’t stop them," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. "That’s just what it was. They were executing better than us and we just didn’t do enough to affect the quarterback. It didn’t seem like he got out of rhythm. That was really the No. 1 thing we were talking about all week, and that guy, if you give him time and he doesn’t feel the pressure up front and we’re not tight enough in coverage, you’re going to have problems."
Another Prater field goal, this one from 35 yards out, put the Lions up 29-14 with 10:04 remaining.
A 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive got the Dolphins back within a score. Osweiler made an impressive throw on the run, connecting with Danny Amendola from 24 yards out to cap the series.
Still, the Lions would not wilt in the blazing heat, which was announced as 89 degrees at kickoff and likely much hotter on the field. Aided by a 22-yard tackle-dodging effort by Tate and a 15-yard pass interference call on a throw to Golladay, Prater drilled a 50-yard with 1:55 remaining to seal the victory.