Fifteen weeks into the season, Dan Campbell’s vision for the Detroit Lions finally came to life.
The Lions played their most complete game of the season Sunday, controlling play with a demoralizing rushing attack and flustering one of the NFL’s best offenses with a relentless pass rush to shock the Arizona Cardinals, 30-12, at Ford Field.
“Today was really the first day we really seen what our brand of football is,” Lions fullback Jason Cabinda said. “Smash-mouth, run the ball (to) open up the pass, defense just balling. So it was awesome to see.”
Practice squad running back Craig Reynolds, playing in place of D’Andre Swift (shoulder) and Jamaal Williams (COVID), ran for 112 yards in his first career start and Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes in arguably his best game of the season as the short-handed Lions won for the second time in three weeks.
The Lions opened Sunday with a tone-setting 15-play, 63-yard drive that chewed 8 minutes, 50 seconds off the clock, and never trailed against a Cardinals team that could have clinched a playoff spot with a win.
Instead, Arizona fell to 10-4 and now risks dropping out of first place in the NFC West.
At 2-11-1, the Lions can no longer stake claim to the NFL’s worst record, something they’ve held at least a share of all season. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who fell to 2-12 with a loss Sunday to the Houston Texans, now control the No. 1 pick in next April’s draft.
“That was fun,” Campbell said. “We knew what we had to do today and we did it, really in all three phases across the board. The minute it felt like something may go the wrong way, we were able to tilt it back into our favor. I was proud of those guys.”
The Lions scored on their first two possessions Sunday, kept Arizona’s high-powered offense off the scoreboard in the first half and showed a resilience that Campbell said had been months in the making.
Leading 10-0 late in the first half, the Lions stopped Arizona on four goal-to-go plays from inside the 7-yard line then drove 97 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals were flagged for two roughing-the-passer penalties on the drive, and Goff left briefly after getting his left leg rolled up on.
He returned after one play, to loud cheers from the sparse Ford Field crowd, and threw a laser of a 22-yard touchdown to Josh Reynolds four snaps later.
“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.”
Outgained 238 yards to 84 in the first half, the Cardinals threatened to make it a game early in the third quarter.