By Neil Rosan / @neilandsports
DETROIT, Mich. — The 2015 season for the Detroit Lions has been far from picture perfect.
A few missed plays and opportunities led to a 1-7 start that put Detroit out of the playoff picture long before the final stretch, but the Lions have started taking the steps to finish the season strong with a 32-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
“When you are trying to win consistently, you certainly can’t take on a victim’s mentality,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “When I was growing up, my dad taught me to never blame something that happened to me on someone else. If you play the game like it’s supposed to be played, you won’t run into those situations. If you are going to win consistently, you have to make your own breaks. That’s what we did today.”
The Lions started to make their own breaks with a fake punt run to pick up a first down trailing 3-7 in the opening quarter. The decision would lead to a 29-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to wide receiver T.J. Jones.
Detroit’s offense was clicking, but the defense was struggling to find a rhythm early. 49ers running back DuJuan Harris was ripping the Lions for big gains, while wide out Anquan Boldin recorded a 16-yard touchdown to take a 17-10 lead.
Eventually, the Lion’s defense got their break. Defenders Haloti Ngata and Josh Bynes combined to sack Niners quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert fumbled on the play allowing Tahir Whitehead to fall on the ball at the one-yard line.
Detroit running back Joique Bell waltzed into the end zone on the next play to cap a one-yard, one-play drive that took only three seconds.
Everything came together for the Lions in the second half. The defense allowed zero points in the second half and Stafford kept his run of good form.
This second half is a testament to our guys,” Caldwell said. “They are highly competitive. They also have great pride in what they do and perform well. They are getting better at what they do. They ran the ball on us quite easily in the first half. In the second, we were able to shut them out in an effort to completely keep them off the board.”
Stafford completed 21-of-27 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. The Georgia alum did his best of finding receivers in the flat, getting them the ball, and letting them make plays in space. His longest pass of the day was for 36 yards.
“We did a good job of taking what the defense gave us today,” Stafford said. “It’s just mixing it up and keeping the defense on their heels.”
Stafford’s favorite target on the afternoon, running back Theo Riddick, led the team with seven catches and 63 yards. He set a Lions’ single season record for running back reception yards with 668.
“Riddick set a season high record for running back receiving yards,” Riddick said. “I’ll take the win over any record breaking things.”
Now the Lions will head to Chicago to try and avoid a ten-loss season. Some fans may clamor for the Lions to lose this game in order to gain a better draft pick, but that will be highly unlikely according to Stafford.
“When you show up on NFL Sunday, you have to play well,” he said. “We are no different than anyone else. We are trying to go out there and win football games. This is an organization that means a lot to us. You have to put your best foot forward.”