When the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, they probably didn't envision Jared Goff helping them win their first playoff game in more than 30 years. And certainly not doing it against Stafford and the Rams.
Sunday night was the biggest night for the Lions in many, many years, and they came through. Goff had a great first half and completed a couple of clutch plays in the final minutes, the defense came up big in the second half, and Detroit won its first playoff game since Barry Sanders starred for the team 32 seasons ago. Detroit held on for a thrilling 24-23 win over the Rams and Stafford.
Detroit's long-awaited return to prominence was the biggest storyline for Sunday night's game. The Lions' last playoff win was in January of 1992. Their last playoff win before that was in 1957. Lions fans hadn't seen a playoff game at home since the 1993 season. Rap superstar and Lions fan Eminem filmed a segment for NBC that played before the game, talking about what this game and season meant. Lions legends, such as Calvin Johnson and Sanders, who each retired in part because of the Lions' constant losing, were on the sideline.
The season would've seemed empty if the Lions had gone one-and-done with a home playoff loss. But with the victory, the Lions aren't just moving on; they have a shot at a deep run. The Dallas Cowboys' loss earlier on Sunday means that with the win, the Lions will host another game next weekend in the divisional round against the Philadelphia Eagles or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions have a chance at going from two playoff wins in 66 years to two in seven or eight days.
The party is starting in Detroit. It might keep going for a while.
Both offenses make big plays
The first Lions home playoff game in 30 years started with plenty of big plays. Detroit began with a 75-yard drive for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Lions were up 14-3 when Stafford hit Puka Nacua for a 50-yard touchdown on third-and-1. Nacua ended up breaking the NFL record for most receiving yards by a rookie in a playoff game, with 181.
Stafford hit another long touchdown, 38 yards to Tutu Atwell, later in the second quarter. The Lions led 21-17 after a highly entertaining first half.
It was a clinic between two hot quarterbacks who were once traded for each other. Goff and Stafford each had more than 190 yards before halftime.
Goff vs. Stafford was worth the hype in the first half 🍿
Goff: 16/18 COMP | 194 YDS | 1 TD
Stafford: 12/16 COMP | 196 YDS | 2 TD
Lions lead 21-17 👀 pic.twitter.com/PcaJoAASw3
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 15, 2024
Both defenses dug in a bit in the second half. Each team got a field goal, and the Lions led 24-20 after three quarters.
It was a competitive, entertaining game through three quarters, which set up a tense fourth quarter with Lions fans hoping to see their team win a playoff game for just the second time since 1957.
Lions lead into the 4th quarter
The Rams put together a long drive and had a shot to take the lead late. But the Lions got the stop when Stafford's throw to Cooper Kupp in the end zone was incomplete. The Rams settled for a field goal and trailed 24-23 with a little more than eight minutes to go.
The Lions had a chance to put the game away at that point, and they went three-and-out. Goff missed a third-down throw to Josh Reynolds, and the Lions punted.
The Rams went on a drive into Lions territory, thanks to a 35-yard catch by Nacua. But a holding call on third down pushed the Rams back. Cameron Sutton broke up a third-and-14 pass to Nacua, and then the Rams punted. There was only 4:07 to go, and the Rams had already wasted two timeouts in the half.
The timeouts proved to be a big factor. When David Montgomery caught a short pass for a first down, it was a huge problem for Los Angeles. And when Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a first down just inside the two-minute warning, the celebration started in Detroit.
Winning a playoff game for the first time since the 1991 season should be reason for a yearlong celebration. But that can't start yet. The Lions have another game at Ford Field next weekend.