Despite a slow start, the Detroit Lions passing game exploded late in the second half to come away with a 38-24 win over the winless Cleveland Browns.
The record breaking sell-out crowd (for a 1pm kickoff) of 64,646 Lions and Browns fans were given quite the rollercoaster of emotions this game, with Lions fans feeling the first of the lows. The Browns would strike first with a 5 play, 42 yd drive that resulted in a 23 yd field goal by Zane Gonazalez. The key theme from Brown’s Head Coach Hue Jackson’s play calling was aggression. The defense pressured blitzed early and often, forcing Lions Quarterback Matt Stafford’s decision making, as he tried forcing a throw to a stumbling receiver, only for it to be picked off by linebacker Jamie Collins. This gave rookie Qb and Toledo Central Catholic alumnus Deshone Kizer excellent field position at the Lion’s 31. Despite being under heavy pressure from a corner blitz, Kizer threw a quick screen to Kenny Britt, making a man miss on his way to the end-zone for a 10-0 Browns lead. Stafford wasn’t shaken by the interception, saying “I’ve played a lot of football in my life man, been in a lot of bad situations. I knew there was a whole lot of time left to play, I’ve been down 10 to nothing with much less time to play so we just made some adjustments and executed later in the game.”
Finally, the Lions would strike back after a string of big runs from Stafford and Ameer Abdullah to march 47 yds down the field, setting up a 46-yd field goal for Matt Prater. The Browns still had the lead 10-3.
The Lions would take it to the house on their next possession with Ameer Abdullah barreling into the end zone for an 8-yd touchdown run, bringing a little bit of life back into Ford Field after a 10 to nothing scare. Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell wasn’t concerned being down early. “I’m worried with how we play at the end. It’s very difficult to play a team that everybody thinks doesn’t have players; that team has players. Four games they lost were by a very narrow margin and they came out and played how I anticipated they were going to play which was very well.”
The Browns were playing quite well, stringing together some yards in the second on their into Lions territory until tight-end Seth Devalve fumbled away the scoring opportunity, with Lions Corner Nevin Lawson scooping and scoring for a 17-10 lead. It was a play that most Browns fans could point out as a “textbook Browns situation”. Unfortunately for the Browns, the errors continued. Looking to go into halftime tied, Kizer scrambled all the way to the Lions second yd-line with 10 seconds left to play. Kizer would be sacked on a QB keeper and time ticked down to zero. Another scoring opportunity…given up.
The Browns came out in the second half storming 85 yds down the field with a run game that made the Lions defense look non-existent. Crowell ran to the outside for the equalizer, 17-17. The Browns then took their next possession 80 yds down the field, with Kizer getting his revenge with a successful QB sneak. 24-17 Browns.
Detroit’s offense would finally wake up after only gaining 139 yds in the first half. Stafford and company put together a drive that spanned just over a minute and a half in 4 plays, resulting in an 8 yd swing pass to Theo Riddick for his first touchdown of the game. Stafford would continue to air it out, finding the struggling Eric Ebron with a 29-yd lob for the big go ahead score. Stafford said of the play “Man to man coverage there, Ebron ran a great route and I threw like…a punt man. It wasn’t spinning real pretty but it ended up in a good spot.” Sure Matt, maybe not your greatest throw, but it did the job. The Lions were awake and thriving with a 31-24 lead.
The Browns needed a big stop late in the fourth for a chance at coming back, but jumping offside on a third and long gave Stafford the extra opportunity he needed. A quick screen out to Golden Tate turned into a 40 yd dash to put the Lions up by two scores. 38-24. Tate said later of the play, “We had another play called, but we knew they were going to cover zero blitz, so Matthew (Stafford) made an incredible call and we all are on the same page. TJ (Jones) and Marv (Jones) made a heck of a block and then 2 lineman came into block and it opened like the red sea and I was on my way to the end-zone; I felt fast.”
In a last ditch effort, the Browns took it all the way down to the 5, only for Kizer to be picked off by Darius Slay in the corner of the end zone to finish the game off.
The Browns winless streak continues on despite the often stellar all-around play. Kizer and the rest of the young squad made big mistakes in big situations that ultimately cost them the game. Coach Jackson said “Obviously, not the outcome we wanted. Had our chances, but couldn’t finish it, so on we go. We’ll get ready for next week, another big game next week. Second half of the season. I thought our guys had a little more pep in their step, fought hard, gave everything they had.” That effort was apparent with Kizer playing rather well, passing for 232 yds and rushing for 57. Kizer believed this was his best game yet, saying ”I think every game so far I’ve felt pretty confident that I was getting better and this is - I was able to play the whole game, wasn’t benched, wasn’t in a situation in which I was turning the ball over earlier in the game. Got a little rhythm going, so yeah, I think this was my best outing yet.” When Kizer went down late in the game, the chance of a Kessler led comeback wasn’t much of a thought and it was apparent on the field. The Browns are a much better product with the Toledo native under center, and Browns fans should be pleased with the performance despite the loss. Coach Jackson is confident going into the second half of the season, saying “I thought that was one of the better versions of our football team out there playing today. We just have to continue to work at it.” Cleveland returns home to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, with kick-off at 1pm ET.
This win gives the Lions an overall record of 5-4, marking the third time in 4 seasons that the Lions have had a winning record in the first nine games of the season under Caldwell. Despite the win and 3 td passes from Stafford, the defense needs to step up if they plan on taking the NFC North. For what seemed like the entire third quarter, the defensive line was getting absolutely worked, and the Browns finished with 201 rushing yds. The Lions look to improve on the road in the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field next Sunday at 1pm ET.