Degrees of Black: Clutch performance on both sides of the ball saves a sloppy day
DETROIT – The Detroit Lions are 8-2 for the first time since 1962, winning seven straight games within the division for the first time since 1970 after coming back to beat the Chicago Bears in Week 11. This post will continue through MLive Lions beat writer Ben Raven’s grades from the game .
Midfielders: Jared Goff made some mistakes in this game, no doubt. He was on the unlucky end of two of his three interceptions. But Goff was lucky, too, as Bears kicker Jaylon Johnson dropped two interceptions, including one that appeared destined for six.
However, Goff completed 23 of 35 passes for 236 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His quarterback rating of 68.3 was the worst since last season’s ugly shutout loss at New England. Goff led by two goals in the final five minutes, with the Lions trailing by 12 points. After the Bears hit a field goal to extend their lead, Goff came out and hit all five pass attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown to Jameson Williams on the next series, thriving in the no-huddle.
When the defense forced a penalty kick, Goff and the offense were given another chance. The quarterback stayed at bay when it mattered most, passing five of seven for 44 yards, with David Montgomery punting in the final touchdown that won the game. So, for those counting at home, when the Lions needed almost perfection, Goff was 10-of-12 passing for 116 yards and one touchdown. This will do. Grade: C+
Back running: But on a day when Goff struggled through the first 45 minutes to get things going. He was the running back to keep the offense’s head above water. David Montgomery ran 12 times for 76 yards and a touchdown, with a long 20-yard rush against his former team. The bruising back even added two receptions for 22 yards.
Rookie Jahmir Gibbs had his moments as well. Gibbs ran eight times for 36 yards and scored one score, scoring on all six scores to send his way for 59 yards. It was another great display of power, speed and versatility in the passing attack. We even got a taste of the two sharing the field, with Montgomery keeping Gibbs’ fake read option away from looking brutal, so it looks like there’s more to come. Grade: A-
Wide receivers: Thank goodness for Jameson Williams’ fourth quarter heroics, because it was the Amon-Ra St. Brown show for most of this game. St. Brown caught eight of 11 targets for 77 yards and one touchdown. The Sun God remained his usual self, latching onto a low ball from Goff at the goal line for the half-time score.
Williams racked up two of his three looks for 44 yards and a clutch touchdown run for 32 yards. His other reception was a look over the middle, where the second-year player took a tough shot in the back while holding on to the ball. It was another step in the right direction for the electric wide receiver, who played two straight games without dropping a pass for the first time in his young career. Grade B-
Tight ends: Sam LaPorta still looks like a tight end and is playing beyond his age. Laporta opened himself wide about the two-point conversion. He also had a key block on Gibbs’ first-half touchdown run. This was a brilliant design from Ben Johnson, but it wouldn’t work without Laporta maintaining his mass from start to finish. Even when his numbers are down, the rookie is reliable and influential. Grade B
Offensive line: Jared Goff was sacked twice, taking eight more hits from Chicago’s defense. This wasn’t the best day for this group in pass protection. Colby Sorsdal made another start replacing Jonah Jackson. He was hit with a stall driving penalty. But, like so many midfielders, they saved their best and cleanest play for the long haul with the game hanging in the balance. This is important for something. Run blocking remains elite, and the Lions love to ride that to a win. Grade B-
Defense line: On the one hand, Justin Fields had this group on his heels, working well in space and making noise with his feet across the first line of defence. But on the other hand, the Lions were brave in the face of the running back. Fields ran 18 times for 104 yards and didn’t face much pressure until the final minutes (see a theme there?). But the rest of the Bears accounted for 79 yards on 28 attempts. And while it was safety Aidan Hutchinson that put the game away, this group sparked a comeback with a third-and-1 quarterback sneak. Holding the Bears to a field goal kept the window wide open. Grade: C+
Linebacker: Alex Anzalone had a busy day keeping cover for Fields and the Bears. Anzalone had a career-high 15 tackles, and remained stout in coverage, even adding a fumble recovery in the win. He is as strong as a rock as they have reached his position now.
Anzalone is also the first Lions defender to make 15 tackles and a fumble recovery since 1999, and the first in the NFL to do so since 2020.
Jack Campbell has taken his bullish lumps along the way, no doubt. There were more of those on Sunday, but there were also signs of growth and a clear vision of what he can be on this defense. Campbell was second on the team with nine tackles, with his play improving in the second half with a trio of impressive stops near the line of scrimmage. Derek Barnes was there too, making eight tackles. Anzalone, Barnes and Campbell limited the damage to Fields and the Bears. Grade B
secondary: Brian Branch was a heat-seeking missile on a mission. The second-round rookie made six tackles, including three for loss with a pass breakup in the win. And for those of you who enjoy the long list of “first time since” stats, Branch is the only rookie defensive back over the last 25 years in the league to have multiple games with three tackles for loss.
Cam Sutton forced a fumble, and Jerry Jacobs was busy with five tackles. This confusion came to a head. But penalties were an issue, as Branch was hit for two stick-move calls on third down in this game. Will Harris was also docked for defensive pass interference in the end zone.
Justin Fields dropped one of the best throws of his career on a deep drop to DJ Moore with Jacobs in coverage. The Lions were fortunate that the ball went through Tyler Scott’s hands, as Fields put that potentially game-winning shot on the money. Grade: C+
Special teams: Craig Reynolds took a hard hit and lost a fumble on a punt return, giving the Bears the lead. And while they’ve overcome that problem, it’s hard to justify turnovers when the league gives away free passes to the 25-yard line.
Riley Patterson had no scoring attempts after winning last week’s game. He made all three attempts after that. And Jack Fox remained one of the best at what he does, as he made two shots, including a 60-yarder that flipped the field from Detroit’s 22-yard line to the other 9-yard line (with a penalty that pushed him back a bit more). Grade: C-
Training: Don’t get lost in the offensive stagnation, because Ben Johnson was one of the stars of this game. When the lions were surrounded and struggling, Johnson would plan and move pieces in search of daylight. Johnson ran St. Brown out of the backfield, and got a linebacker into coverage on downs. He also used Malcolm Rodriguez as a hitting decoy, with Gibbs’ throw going to the other side for a touchdown.
Honestly, it wasn’t that bad defensively. Fields got his target, making some very difficult throws. But he passed for only 169 yards, and outside of an unexpected 29-yard drive with yellow laundry strewn all over the field, it wasn’t as bad as it felt. Trust me. The pass rush still lacks consistency. But Aaron Glenn’s group made clutch plays down the stretch — forcing a fumble, stuffing a steal up the middle and getting a strip-sack safety in the final moments.
Dan Campbell and his staff were in such a tough spot that analytics gave them a 1.8% chance of winning with 4:15 minutes left in the game. They stayed there, trusted the process and their plan, and it worked. The Lions are one of the best teams in the league, and they do what good teams do, even on their worst days. Grade B