Lions Leftovers: Ugly start, beautiful finish as Detroit Lions beat Arizona Cardinals

Welcome to Lions Leftovers, my weekly post-game commentary of the team that gives fans both heart attacks and outright elation, often on back-to-back plays.

The Lions started the season Sunday with a 35-23 win over the Cardinals at Ford Field. That final score, though, is not indicative of how close this game was for over three quarters. The reason it remained so close for so long is that neither team looked sharp, especially in the first half. It felt like the preseason continued into Week 1.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer threw an ugly pass that Tavon Wilson intercepted. On the ensuing drive, perhaps Matthew Stafford felt bad for his QB brother because he got intercepted by Justin Bethel, who returned it for the first score of the game.

It was just indicative of how the first half would look. If I took the time to catalog all the mistakes that could have been game-changing, this article would end up longer than War and Peace (or its original title War, What is it Good For?). So allow me to give you a group of examples that all happened within minutes of each other.

That Lions were pinned so deep in their own territory that Kasey Redfern, filling in for the injured Sam Martin, had to punt from his own end zone. He mishandled the snap, tried to run it out, and got hurt giving the ball to Arizona inside the 15. There is a reason punters are punters and not real football players. So place kicker Matt Prater had to punt the rest of the game.

The Cardinals offense could not take advantage of that great field position, mostly because David Johnson was absolutely corralled by Detroit’s defense, so they decided to settle for a chip-shot field goal attempt.

The Lions would have none of that, though, and got called for a penalty, giving Arizona a fresh set of downs. And they STILL couldn’t get it into the end zone. The Cardinals settled for a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

Then Dwayne Washington watched the ensuing kickoff bounce around the end zone for about 15 minutes, THEN decided to bring it out.

Seriously, all that happened in one, continuous stretch of the game. And people wonder why NFL ratings are dropping.

This first half looked like a game of “who wants to win it less.” Penalties, turnovers, missed assignments, overthrown passes, poor tackling, running the wrong routes, muffed snaps, excruciatingly predictable play calling. There was literally not a facet of the game that made anyone believe that these were some of the best athletes in the world.

Except for Matt Prater. In addition to having to punt, his 58-yard field goal to end the half was just about the only really impressive moment. And he was dead nuts on with that kick.

It was a 10-9 Arizona lead at the break. And Jim Caldwell still looked like he was staring off into the distance, thinking about everything except football.

After the break, it looked like perhaps the bus carrying the real Cardinal players finally showed up because they started the third with a 94-yard drive to push the lead to 17-9.

It was just a mirage, however. Their ineptitude returned, and to add injury to insult, their superstar running back Johnson got knocked out of the game on the same play he fumbled the ball to Detroit.

The Lions, on the other hand, reverted to last season’s form once it became the fourth quarter. Stafford’s comeback mojo struck again, and Detroit reeled off 26 unanswered points. Theo Riddick, rookie Kenny Golladay, Golden Tate, and Marvin Jones all helped Stafford move the ball and get into the end zone.

The Lions defense joined in the fun as well, with Miles Killebrew snagging a tipped Palmer pass, returning it for a touchdown.

The Cardinals added a late garbage score, but this game was over long before that.

Among the bright spots for Detroit was the pass-blocking by the offensive line. They kept Stafford pretty clean all day, allowing just one sack. The defense kept this game close until Stafford and the offense started clicking. The receivers were not plagued by egregious dropped passes, a huge problem they had last season. Tate was big all day with 10 receptions and 107 yards, and Golladay caught his first two career TDs, including this full-extension gem:

With that being said, a lot went wrong with the Lions in this game, too. They had 10 penalties for 100 yards. They only averaged three yards per carry, with their quarterback and punter having the two longest carries on the day.

You are not going to win a lot of games like that. However, it is much easier to watch the film and work with the coaches on those issues if they didn’t cost you the game.

The biggest number Lions fans can focus on is that their team is 1-0.



Lions Leftovers is the weekly post-game commentary from Detroit Sports Nation contributor Rob Otto

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