It’s not the start, but the finish. It’s a point the Lions’ proved much of last season.
It’s a good trend they continued Sunday with a 35-23 season-opening victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Given a craggy schedule, and the Cardinals’ apparent drop, the Lions just had to win.
The fact they did is significant.
The Lions are at the New York Giants next Monday, then face Atlanta, Minnesota, Carolina, New Orleans and Pittsburgh. It’s a brutal stretch. The Lions can’t afford to give winnable games away. Ultimately, they didn’t Sunday, despite a disturbingly blunder-filled first half.
It was technically another fourth-quarter comeback engineered by quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions trailed 17-15 entering the final period.
And give the Lions’ defense credit. They put considerable pressure on aging Cardinals’ QB Carson Palmer. They created four turnovers. The Lions’ defense is youthful and promising, particularly rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis, and second-year pros, tackle A’Shawn Robinson and safety Miles Killebrew.
Matt Prater continues to be the Lions’ get out of trouble card. He kicked a 58-yard field goal after Arizona’s Phil Dawson hit an upright with a chip shot. It was a huge 6-point swing when the Lions seemed to be on the ropes.
“You have to play four quarters,” Stafford said. “Our defense kept us in the game. It was a total team win. It wasn’t pretty, but everybody contributed.
“We’ve just have to get out of our own way a little bit earlier.”
First-game jitters? Just not prepared? You be the judge. Whatever, the Lions played a terrible first half offensively and made serious mistakes on special teams. It was a minor miracle they were down just 10-9 at halftime.
Not long ago, the Cardinals were an imposing team. Not any more. Palmer’s lack of arm strength and limited mobility are vividly noticeable. As a result, the game took on the feeling of a free throw shooting contest between Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan. You know, a constant “CLANK.” Both offenses were alarmingly out of sync.
Punter Kasey Redfern, in for the injured Sam Martin, dropped a snap in the end zone. He subsequently got crushed and injured trying to scramble for a first down. He was forced from the game and Prater replaced him. It was Redfern’s first NFL punt. That part was sad. Stafford threw a “pick six” to open his game. Holder Jake Rudock mishandled a snap on an extra point.
Kickoff returner Dwayne Washington muffed the ball in the end zone and still tried to bring it out, resulting in horrible field position. Yet, the Lions still prevailed.
“Our defense played tough and hard and had a lot of guys contributing,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “One of things you don’t want to do is completely implode. The great thing is our team had the resiliency to hang in there.’’
The Lions were 9-4 to begin last season, eight of the wins fourth-quarter comebacks. They faded down the stretch and were bad in a playoff loss at Seattle.
This game had a similar tone to the first dozen games of 2016. The Lions’ running attack was woeful, yet the defense forced key turnovers and Stafford got hot late.
A bonus was the defense bottling up one of the NFL’s best backs, Arizona’s David Johnson.
Detroit’s receiving corps was really good in this game. Golden Tate caught 10 balls, T.J. Jones made a couple clutch receptions on less-than-perfect passes by Stafford and rookie Kenny Golladay bounced back from a rough start to make two beautiful TD receptions.
There are some building blocks in place. The young talent on the Lions’ defense is particularly impressive.
Also, coming from behind is a winning habit. The best NFL teams do it all the time.
As such, Sunday’s win is a sign the Lions may be getting there, even if it didn’t start out that way.