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'Today is the fun part about it ...': Lions pull off stunner, deck Cards

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Detroit — One team entered Sunday's game at Ford Field with the worst record in the NFL, while the other was trying to keep pace for the top seed in the NFL. But with little more than pride and the ability to play spoiler as motivation, the Detroit Lions took it to the visiting Arizona Cardinals, rocking the Super Bowl contender, 30-12. 

Quarterback Jared Goff threw for three touchdowns, running back Craig Reynolds topped the century mark and Detroit's patchwork defense — still working its way through a COVID outbreak and multiple injuries — kept the high-octane Cardinals (10-4) out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter, all contributing to the stunning upset. 

Lions linebackers Alex Anzalone and Charles Harris celebrate Harris' tackle of the Cardinals' Rondale Moore in the first quarter.

"Today is the fun part about it, for sure," Goff said. "You have to fight through some of those dark times to get there. It’s been obviously a long year for all of us with the Lions, but days like today make it all worth it to put that extra time in and do all the right things."

The Lions (2-11-1) got off to a fast start, both offensively and defensively, establishing a 17-0 lead at the half and never looked back.

BOX SCORE: Lions 30, Cardinals 12

Taking the opening kickoff, Detroit worked through some clunky execution early in the possession, converting a pair of third downs. From there, the offense was able to piece together a 15-play drive before settling for a 37-yard Riley Patterson field goal and a 3-0 lead. 

Led by outside linebacker Charles Harris, the defense quickly got the ball back for the offense. The defender stopped speedy Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray for no-gain on a first-down keeper before dropping shifty rookie receiver Rondale Moore short of the sticks after a third-down reception, forcing a punt. 

Pinned deep in their own territory, the Lions shook off a near-interception early in the series to drive 93 yards and extend their early lead. Again converting a pair of early third downs, including a 27-yard romp by running back Craig Reynolds, quarterback Jared Goff found rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 37-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. 

Goff had to step up to avoid an oncoming pass rusher after faking a handoff, but remained poised in the pocket despite the pressure, delivering an in-stride ball to St. Brown for the rookie's second touchdown of the season. 

"That was really impressive," St. Brown said. "I didn’t know he was actually under that much duress until after I came back to the sideline. They’re like, 'You’re supposed to hold it a little longer,' but I was ready to try and score, so I kind of left the block a little too early. Jared, he stepped up and made a great throw."

Now up 10, the defense maintained Detroit's early momentum by forcing another quick punt after Harris sacked Murray on third down. 

"Charles has been a relentless player for us all season long," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "He’s a nuisance to quarterbacks, but he plays the run as well. He’s a well-rounded defensive end, outside linebacker, if you will. He really showed up."

The two sides would trade punts until late in the half, when Murray opened a possession with six straight completions, taking the Cardinals down to the Lions' 3-yard line. But the quarterback's third-and-goal pass, intended for A.J. Green in the back corner of the end zone, was batted away by cornerback Amani Oruwariye.

And instead of taking the short field goal, the Cardinals went for it on fourth down only to see Murray's fourth-down throw knocked away by nickel cornerback AJ Parker, who made his return to the lineup after missing three games with an ankle injury. 

Taking over with 1:59 remaining in the half, Goff completed passes of 15 and 14 yards, absorbing roughing-the-passer penalties on both plays for an additional 30 yards. After heading to the sideline to be quickly evaluated for a leg injury after the second roughing penalty, Goff returned after one play to a roar from the appreciative home crowd and completed two quick throws to St. Brown before firing a bullet to Josh Reynolds, running a post pattern, for a 22-yard touchdown with 24 seconds remaining. 

"It was cool to be able to come back in and finish that drive," Goff said. "I think up to this point I’ve learned you can’t play quarterback in this league if you aren’t going to be able to fight through a little bit of — not injury, but pain I guess. Especially for this team and this city, it’s important to be that guy. Knee hurts a little bit, but I’ll be all right."

Goff finished the first half having completed 15-of-19 for 171 yards, with St. Brown and Reynolds accounting for 128 of those yards and the two scores. 

After the break, the Cardinals quickly broke the shutout behind some big runs by the backfield tandem of James Conner and Chase Edmonds. Connor opened the series with a 22-yard gain, while Edmonds added a 23-yard pickup before the drive petered out in the red zone. A 29-yard field goal by former Lion Matt Prater cut Detroit's lead to 14, 17-3. 

Detroit looked poised to respond, driving across midfield, but for the second week in a row, running back Godwin Igwebuike lost a fumble, giving the Cardinals the ball back at their 44-yard line.

But that mistake didn't come back to haunt the Lions, as Oruwariye made a diving interception on a ball intended for Green. The cornerback was able to get back to his feet and return the pick all the way to the 6-yard line.

"I think he was looking to the other side and A.J. Green kinda ran like a slow route," Oruwariye said. "I don't think he was expecting to get the ball, then he rolled out and I kinda just baited it. Ended up throwing the ball and dove and made a play." 

The interception was the sixth of the season for Oruwariye, and it set up a six-yard touchdown pass from Goff to fullback Jason Cabinda, the first of the converted linebacker's career. That extended the Lions edge, 24-3. 

Taking advantage of some coverage breakdowns, the Cardinals quickly moved into the red zone on their ensuing possession with completions of 20, 19 and 27, but still couldn't manage to punch it into the end zone, eating a 4-yard loss when Murray put a snap on the ground.

That mistake helped allow the Lions to preserve a three-score lead, 24-6, even with Prater knocking down a 29-yard field goal with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter. 

The Lions got those three points back early in the fourth quarter, on a 47-yard Patterson field goal, after being aided by yet another roughing the passer penalty against the Cardinals. 

In desperation mode, the Cardinals went for it facing fourth-and-six from Detroit's 30-yard line, but receiver Antoine Wesley couldn't get both feet down in bounds on a throw to the goal line, ending the threat and any hope of a comeback. 

After the Lions killed nearly four minutes of game clock, the Cardinals finally got into the end zone.

Murray found Christian Kirk open down the middle of the field from 26 yards out with 4:40 remaining. After failing to complete the two-point conversion, the Cardinals were also unable to recover an onside kick as Josh Reynolds corralled the bouncing effort into his body. 

Patterson would go on to add a 45-yard field goal following the recovery, moving the rookie to 7-for-7 in four games since joining the Lions. 

Arriving to the podium for his postgame press conference, Campbell summed up the day succinctly. 

"That was fun," he said. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers