By Michael Ferro
When Detroit executed another thrilling comeback win on Thanksgiving over visiting Minnesota, the Lions entered the top spot in the NFC North. Fans in the Motor City had dreams of playoffs, not sugarplums, dancing in their heads. But, Detroit had a big test ahead of them: A road game down in New Orleans. Detroit's only losses on the year had come away from Ford Field, so if they wanted to cement their first place spot, they had to prove they could do it away from home. In the end, Detroit was impressive, winning by a commanding 28-13 score.
From the beginning of the game, Detroit marched out of the gates on offense, taking a 10-0 lead before the Saints scored a field goal. Meanwhile, the Detroit defense really kept Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his teammates stumped. The Lions' offense continued to roll as quarterback Matthew Stafford connected with Golden Tate eight times for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Detroit started out strong on offense. The Lions, led by the stellar Stafford, have scored on most of their red zone drives this season, though the majority of those have been field goals. That was apparent once again as six of Detroit's 13 first-half points came off the boot of kicker Matt Prater. For all of the effort that the Detroit offense put into the first half, it was somewhat disappointing to see the Lions walk away with only 13 points.
The third quarter has statistically been the worst for Detroit all year long as they've averaged just under four points in that quarter this season. While Detroit did respond by marching down to the red zone, once again, all they could muster was field goal after field goal. But, in the fourth quarter, that changed when Stafford threw a booming 66-yard pass (while being hit) to Golden Tate for a touchdown, and added more points without much fuss.
Throughout the first half, the Detroit defense really held up their end of the bargain. While the Lions carefully put points on the board, the Detroit secondary kept New Orleans and Drew Brees on the sidelines. Eventually, Brees found a way to get his team down the field for a touchdown and a few field goals, but the Lions never let the Saints take the lead (hence, no need for a Stafford-led dramatic comeback).
Detroit's defense never relented down the line, keeping the pressure up through the fourth quarter, sacking Brees and nabbing two interceptions to give Detroit a reassuring away win heading down the stretch to the playoffs. Also, this game marked the a very rare occasion: Brees didn't throw a single touchdown pass.
Special Teams: A
Once again, Prater was clutch in the match-up, making his first field goal with ease. With under a minute left in the first half, Prater added another 29-yard field goal to give Detroit a 13-3 lead. After the start of the third quarter, Prater nailed a 32-yard field goal. Then a 27-yard field goal. Then a 52-yard field goal.
While Detroit has struggled to get touchdowns in the red zone this year, at the very least, they've been able to count on Prater to make something out of it. Until Detroit can figure out the problem concerning their touchdown woes in the end zone, at least it's nice to know that if the Lions are even remotely within striking distance, they can always count on three points from Prater.
Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell knew the task of winning on the road was one where his team has struggled at times throughout this year. In order for his Lions to continue their winning streak and hold their top spot, he would have to make sure his players were ready to play as well as they have in Ford Field away from Detroit. He did that effectively.
Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin did his homework and prepped his squad for a tough game away from home, stumping Brees. Now we'll just have to see if he can do the same for a brutal away game at Dallas and at home against Green Bay later in the season.
Up Next: Detroit returns home to host Chicago on Sunday, Dec. 11 when the Lions play the Chicago Bears at 1 p.m. EST.
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