For every NFL game, there are key plays that become turning points of the contest. Some of those plays make the highlight reel–touchdowns, turnovers, long runs, big hits, incredible catches.
Other plays, while not so visually pleasing to the casual fan, are the plays that usually help determine who wins, and who loses football games.
I will be reporting five key plays from every Lions game this season (and hopefully post-season).
KEY PLAY #5
The play: Delay of game penalty, 4th quarter, 11:53 remaining, on the point-after attempt following San Diego’s 13-yard touchown pass from Philip Rivers to Ladarius Green.
What happened: The touchdown gave the Chargers a five point lead at 26-21 over the Lions. They lined up to go for a two-point conversion. San Diego took too long to make the decision, call a play, and snap the ball before the play clock expired–causing a delay of game penalty.
Instead of going for two from the 7-yard line, the Chargers opted to kick the extra point. Kicker Josh Lambo missed the 38-yard P.A.T. attempt wide right.
Why it mattered: Had the two-point conversion been successful, San Diego would have extended the lead to seven points, and as seen more than once on Sunday, extra points are no longer “automatic”. By receiving the delay of game penalty, the Chargers were forced to try for no better than a six-point lead.
KEY PLAY #4
The play: Encroachment penalty, 2nd quarter, 5:37 remaining, Chargers ball, 3rd-and-1 at the Lions 14-yard line.
What happened: Rivers’ hard count drew an encroachment call on Detroit’s Tyrunn Walker, giving the Chargers a first down.
Why it mattered: The Lions were leading 21-3 at the time. Had they stopped the Chargers on 3rd down, there was a good chance that San Diego would have gone for a field goal attempt, or be put into a position to convert on 4th down.
On the very next play, Danny Woodhead ran the ball straight up the middle through Detroit’s defense for a 9-yard touchdown run.
The Lions lead decreased to eleven points, and this touchdown was the first of five consecutive scores in which the Chargers put up 30 unanswered points.
KEY PLAY #3
The play: Lions running back Ameer Abdullah’s 2-yard run on 3rd-and-3 from the Lions 38-yard line, 3rd quarter, 2:08 remaining.
What happened: San Diego linebackers Cordarro Law and Manti Te’o combined on a tackle to keep Abdullah just short of the line to gain for a first down, causing the Lions to punt.
Why it mattered: The Lions were leading 21-20, and had they scored even a field goal on the drive, it would have forced the Chargers to score a touchdown in order to take the lead, which, to this point of the game, they had never enjoyed.
KEY PLAY #2
The play: Rivers 15-yard pass to Keenan Allen on 3rd-and-10 from the San Diego 47-yard line with 13:44 left in the 4th quarter.
What happened: From a shotgun formation, Rivers hit his favorite receiver of the day (Allen had 15 receptions for 166 yards) right in the middle of the Lions zone defense, good for a 1st down.
Why it mattered: At this point of the game, the Lions were still ahead by one point, and the Chargers would have been forced to punt or try for a 4th down conversion. Instead, this play extended what would become the go-ahead drive on the Rivers to Green touchdown pass three plays later.
KEY PLAY #1
The play: Rivers 20-yard pass to Allen on 3rd-and-19 from the Lions 42-yard line with 4:18 left in the 4th quarter.
What happened: Rivers hit Allen on an underneath route, and Allen (with some up-field blocking) got to the line to gain for a 1st down.
Why it mattered: While it’s never good to give up a 20-yard reception on 3rd-and-19, this play extended a drive that would put the Chargers up by two scores, as they were leading by five points before Woodhead capped off this drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Following Lambo’s successful P.A.T, the Lions were down by twelve points. Although Detroit would score a touchdown of their own with 1:09 remaining in the game, had they stopped the Chargers on 3rd-and-long here, they could have had the ball trailing 26-21 with four minutes to go in the game.