Knot in the cards: Lions blow 18-point lead, settle for 27-all tie with Arizona
Glendale, Ariz. — In a game featuring a pair of sensational debuts, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray's furious, fourth-quarter rally and Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson's record-setting day ended up offsetting each other in a disappointing 27-27 season-opening tie on Sunday.
Murray's heroics nearly overshadowed Hockenson, the Lions' much-debated first-round pick. He set the mark for most receiving yards by a tight end in his first game, catching six balls for 131 yards and a touchdown.
The individual success provided little consolation for Hockenson. His attitude mirrored that of many players in Detroit's locker room, that the tie felt like a loss after blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"We want to come out with a win," Hockenson said. "That's our biggest thing. Whatever you do out there individually doesn't really matter if you come out with a win. Today we came up short and we're going to come back and fix it."
Hockenson's touchdown, on the second play of the fourth quarter, put the Lions up 24-6, seemingly putting the game out of reach for a Cardinals team that had struggled to move the ball to that point.
But the dual-threat quarterback selected No. 1 overall in the draft started making big plays downfield. A 41-yard connection with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald set up a Zane Gonzalez field goal, making it a two-score game with 11:13 remaining.
On Arizona's ensuing possession, Murray found running back David Johnson for a 27-yard touchdown when linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin fell in coverage.
The Lions managed to use up more than half of the remaining six minutes of clock, but instead of pinning the Cardinals deep in their own territory, a partially blocked punt set Murray up to lead a game-tying drive in the closing minutes.
Prior to the punt, with the Lions facing third-and-5, the offense appeared to pick up a big conversion on a designed play-action pass to running back J.D. McKissic, but the play was whistled dead while it was developing because a timeout had been called from the bench.
Patricia took the blame for the timeout after the game, noting the play clock was running out and he feared Stafford wouldn't get the snap off.
With new life, Murray needed nine plays to go 60 yards, connecting with Fitzgerald for a 4-yard touchdown, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Christian Kirk, knotting it at 24.
"Larry Fitzgerald is a great player," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "He really kind of took over there in the end. We were trying to do a lot of different adjustments to get to him. That why he's a Hall of Fame guy."
In all, Murray completed 15 of 19 throws in the fourth quarter for 154 yards and the two scores.
The Cardinals won the coin toss in overtime and nearly put the game away on the first possession when Murray again found Fitzgerald downfield, this time for 45 yards. But the series stalled in the red zone, leaving Gonzalez to knock home a 28-yard chip shot to give Arizona its first lead of the game, 27-24.
With completions of 21 and 23 yards from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones, the Lions managed to counter with a field goal of their own, salvaging the tie.
Yet despite the frantic finish, the game actually got off to a slow start. The biggest plays of a scoreless opening quarter were a pair of turnovers.
Lions safety Tracy Walker intercepted a Murray throw that put the Lions in position to crack the scoreless tie, but on the ensuing snap, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones blew past offensive tackle Taylor Decker and drilled Stafford, forcing a fumble that gave the ball back to Arizona.
Points didn't come until the second quarter, when the Lions put together three straight scoring possessions. Matt Prater got things rolling with a 55-yard field goal that easily carried the crossbar. Following a quick three-and-out for the Cardinals, the Lions needed two plays to find the end zone for the first time.
Taking advantage of a broken coverage in Arizona's secondary, Stafford stepped up in the pocket, avoiding pressures and connected with a wide open Danny Amendola, who dodged the only defender between him and the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown.
On Detroit's next possession, Stafford orchestrated a 95-yard drive, connecting with Hockenson on gains of 10 and 38 yards, setting up a 9-yard scoring strike to Kenny Golladay.
The third-year receiver threw a big block to start his route, which fooled the Cardinals defense and allowed Golladay to come open on a shallow crossing pattern and high-step into the end zone. That pushed the Lions advantage to 17-0.
"It was a play we did all week (in practice)," Golladay said. "I know I had to handle the block first, before getting out. That was the main, what sprung me, really. I prioritized the back and when I turned around, I was surprised I was that open."
Stafford finished the day 27-for-45 for 385 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Cardinals managed to get on the board before the half when Lions return man Jamal Agnew muffed a punt that was recovered by Trent Sherfield at the 8-yard line. Detroit's defense tightened up near the goal line, keeping Arizona out of the end zone and leaving them to settle for a short, 20-yard Gonzalez field goal.
The Cardinals further cut into the lead with another Gonzalez field goal in the third quarter, before Hockenson seemingly put the game out of reach.
Prior to the touchdown, Hockenson had another 24-yard grab, breaking the 100-yard plateau in the process, and tight end Jesse James extended the drive with a 15-yard third-down conversion. On third-and-14 from just outside the red zone, Stafford rolled right to evade pressure and found Hockenson near the back of the end zone for 23 yards.
The tie marked the Lions' first in nearly 35 years, when they finished deadlocked with the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 4, 1984.