Battered Lions snap desert drought, limp past Cardinals

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) runs back his interception for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half on Sunday.

Glendale, Ariz. — In the battle of two banged-up, struggling offenses, the Detroit Lions were able to ride a Darius Slay pick-six to the team’s first victory in Arizona in a quarter-century, besting the Cardinals on Sunday, 17-3.

Late in the third quarter, after making just their second trip in Lions territory on the day, Slay stepped in front of a pass from one rookie to another, snatching away Josh Rosen’s throw intended for wide receiver Trent Sherfield, returning it 67 yards down the left sideline to give the Lions a 10-0 lead with 3:03 remaining.

"I baited (the throw)," Slay said. "I knew it was coming. I knew it before the play even happened. The only thing I was concerned about was if I was going to score with it.

"It felt freaking awesome. I loved it. I work hard. I appreciate the Lord blessing me with speed to get to that end zone." 

BOX SCORE: Lions 17, Cardinals 3

The Lions (5-8) would seal the victory with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Zach Zenner with 4:05 remaining, overcoming a brutal day of injuries for the Lions.

"Coach mentioned that I might be getting a series," Zenner said. "I had the opportunity and the offensive line did a great job. ...The holes started to open up late, I just happened to be back there."

Those two touchdowns came after a snoozer of a first half, where Matt Prater’s 47-yard field goal representing the only points.

The Lions received the opening kickoff and put together a promising drive, working across midfield before running back LeGarrette Blount coughed up a fumble. But the Cardinals (3-10) couldn’t do much with the turnover, going three-and-out, punting for the first of four times in the half.

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"I missed some pretty big opportunities," Rosen said. "There were two or three plays in the first quarter I missed."

The Lions weren’t able to do much more, also punting four times around Prater’s field goal. Arizona had an opportunity to match the Lions’ three points before the half, but like so many of the team’s opponents this season, kicker Zane Gonzalez’s 54-yard attempt clanged off the upright.

The second half remained a defensive struggle, until Slay’s interception. It was his third of the season, and first of his career he returned for a touchdown.

"It was a good play by him," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I think he did a really good job coming out of the break. Obviously, Slay's a great player. ... It was a hard catch for him and great job for him staying in bounds."

After another punt for each squad, the Cardinals snapped the Lions’ shutout effort. Rosen connected on back-to-back passes to Sherfield for 35 yards, followed by a 12-yard throw to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. A roughing the passer call against A’Shawn Robinson moved the drive into the red zone before the Cardinals stalled and settled for a short Gonzalez field goal.

But the Lions countered with a lengthy drive, leaning heavily on Zenner. After receiving just one carry through three quarters, Zenner opened the series with three straight for 25 yards. After a 25-yard pass interference call on a throw to Kenny Golladay, the Lions gave the ball to Zenner four more times, ending with the 1-yard score.

"He did a great job," Patricia said. "Give him a lot of credit for being ready to go, and give the offensive line credit, too, for going out there and just executing when they really had to in that situation." 

The Lions overcame a number of injuries in the contest. The team lost rookie defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand and defensive end Ziggy Ansah in the span of two plays at the end of the first quarter and right tackle Rick Wanger to a concussion before the half. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington and safety Charles Washington were both officially ruled out mid-game with hamstring injuries, while fullback Nick Bellore, safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Marcus Cooper left the game and didn’t return.

"It's tough," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I know everybody's fighting tooth and nail to get out there and help us win and I was happy to see that."

Stafford finished 15-for-23 for 101 yards, his fewest in a game he didn’t exit with an injury. Zenner paced the Lions with 54 yards on 12 carries. In total, Detroit’s three running backs — Zenner, Blount and Theo Riddick — combined for 163 yards of Detroit’s 218 from scrimmage.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers