Finally, the Detroit Lions longstanding nightmare is over. On Sunday, they held on to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 24-23, winning the franchise’s first postseason game since 1991.
The Lions put decades of losing in the rearview against the Rams, but it wasn’t perfect. Here are three takeaways from the dramatic win.
1. Red zone success made the difference
Both teams made three trips to the red zone on Sunday, with the Lions finding much more success. Jared Goff and company were a perfect 3-for-3 inside the Rams 20-yard line, leading to 21 points. Furthermore, they faced only two third downs combined over the three drives.
Meanwhile, even though they moved the football effectively for most of the game, the Rams could not capitalize in the red zone, settling for three field goals in as many trips. Furthermore, they failed to come away with six points each time despite reaching the Lions’ 11-yard line or closer.
While the game had its fair share of controversial penalties, called and uncalled, the difference came down to red zone efficiency. The Lions’ early success prevented a stale second half from coming back to bite them, while the Rams’ struggles had them chasing points the entire game.
2. The Lions’ offense got stagnant after a hot start
Early on, the Lions’ offense looked unstoppable, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives to open the contest. However, the unit went ice-cold after that, managing only three points over the next five possessions, including two three-and-outs.
Perhaps most concerning for the Lions is that the Rams took away what was working, and they seemingly had no answer. After rushing for 69 yards in the first half, running backs David Montgomery and Jahymr Gibbs combined for only 14 in the second half.
Luckily, the Lions held firm on the other side of the ball, with the defense recording a genuine bend-don’t-break performance.
Nevertheless, relying on a unit that ranked 22nd in the NFL in points against this season to do the same in the divisional round and beyond isn’t the soundest of strategies. So, the offense needs to get it together to ensure they don’t repeat the disappearing act against the Philadelphia Eagles or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
3. Poor time management decisions will haunt the Rams
During several key moments on Sunday, head coach Sean McVay made curious decisions that hurt the Rams in the long run. Whether poor timeout usage or a general lack of urgency in playcalling, the mistakes were glaring.
Firstly, McVay bungled the end of the first half, costing the Rams a chance at points. Trailing 21-17 with a minute remaining, L.A. got the ball back on their 5-yard line, though instead of trying for a late field goal to gain more momentum heading into the half, the head coach chose to wave the white flag and run the clock out.
Sure, it might’ve been a risk, but considering the team mustered only two field goals the rest of the game, it was one worth taking.
Then, McVay burned the team’s second timeout less than a minute into the fourth quarter, leaving them only one down the stretch. That decision would play a significant role in the ending.
With four minutes left, down by only one point and facing a third-and-14 from the Detroit 44 yard-line, McVay chose to go for it all instead of calling a play that kept going for it on fourth down an option.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a low-percentage pass deep to Puka Nacua, which fell incomplete. The Rams punted on the following play and never got the football back.