DETROIT — After neither team found the end zone early on, the Detroit Lions took control in the second quarter and cruised to a 42-17 win over the Denver Broncos on Saturday. Lions quarterback Jared Goff bounced back from a rough stretch of games to throw five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The win moved the Lions to 10-4 and gives them an even firmer grasp on first place in the NFC North. The Broncos, meanwhile, are now 7-7 and struggled to get anything working on offense for much of the night. Denver likely won’t catch the AFC West division title, but can still vie for a wild-card spot. Here’s a breakdown of each team’s performance:
The Lions returned home to Ford Field after dropping two of their last three games in a prime-time matchup that had head coach Dan Campbell facing his mentor — Broncos coach Sean Payton. The Lions got their swagger back with rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta both scoring multiple touchdowns. LaPorta also set the franchise mark for most receiving touchdowns by a rookie tight end (9). They hadn’t looked their best since the Week 9 bye, but Goff was solid against Denver’s blitz to put the Lions in control as they look to end the regular season strong.
Describe the game in two words: 10 wins. The Lions reached their 10th victory of the regular season for the first time since 2014, a big benchmark for the franchise.
Buy on a breakout performance: Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu gave the defense a major spark with a strip sack on Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson in the first half, as well as six tackles, two quarterback hits, two passes defended and a forced fumble. Prior to Saturday, the Lions defense had allowed 25 or more points in five straight games, which was the longest active streak in the NFL.
QB breakdown: Goff struggled with nine turnovers over a four-game stretch entering Saturday but stepped up on the prime-time stage. He was on fire with three touchdown passes in the second quarter alone, ending with 278 passing yards while going 24-for-34 with five touchdowns. He certainly needed this caliber of performance. — Eric Woodyard
Next game: at Vikings, Dec. 24.
The Broncos have overcome plenty since their 1-5 start to the season, but they could not overcome their balky offense and wobbly run defense Saturday night. They had given up 11 touchdowns in the previous seven games and surrendered five Saturday alone as the defense could not withstand what the Lions had waiting.
Because the Lions reside in the NFC, the loss puts a minor dent the Broncos’ chase for a wild-card spot, but the chase for the AFC West title is likely over barring an unlikely collapse from the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Broncos gained 40 yards on their first play from scrimmage when Wilson hit receiver Jerry Jeudy, but went on to gain 35 yards for the remainder of the half with three three-and-outs sprinkled in the doldrums. The Lions had 18:26 of possession time in the opening half and on their third touchdown drive of the first half the Broncos defense looked like a weary unit playing its third road game in 13 days.
Troubling trend: The Broncos spent much of the first half of the season as one of the most explosive run teams in the league. For weeks only the Dolphins had a higher percentage of explosive runs — 10 yards or more — but they had dropped to seventh in that category going into Saturday night’s game and what happened in Ford Field won’t help. When the game was still somewhat in the balance, Samaje Perine‘s 6-yard run on his only carry before halftime was the longest by a Broncos running back until his 12-yarder with 6:28 to play in game. When the Broncos don’t create in the run game, opponents crank up the pressure on Wilson and they find holes in the pass protection.
Biggest hole in the gameplan: The Broncos chose a mix-and-match approach on Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who led the team in receptions, yards receiving and was tied for team lead in touchdowns coming into Saturday. Denver only has one Pat Surtain II to match up on a wide receiver and he was busy with Jameson Williams at times. And when it wasn’t Surtain across from him, St. Brown feasted for a 100-yard evening, especially between the hashmarks.
QB breakdown: Even when Wilson has struggled at times this season he has been able to close the deal in the red zone — he came into the game tied for fifth in touchdown passes and his third-quarter scoring pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey was his 26th — but the Broncos couldn’t get him into the red zone enough to make a difference. A first-quarter fumble seemed to unsettle him and the Lions were able to dial up consistent pressures. It was a tough enough night that as Broncos kicker Wil Lutz lined up a 23-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter, Payton was making his displeasure known to Wilson on the Broncos’ sideline.
Pivotal play: The Broncos made a stand early, keeping the Lions from scoring when Detroit had returned a fumble to the Denver 36-yard line, but LaPorta’s 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 12:31 left in the second quarter popped things loose. LaPorta got matched up with Broncos linebacker in coverage, Goff found him as Jewell missed a tackle near the Broncos sideline. The play seemed to open the gate a bit on missed tackles — another later on a Gibbs touchdown reception — and the Broncos looked on their heels the rest of the way. — Jeff Legwold
Next game: vs. Patriots, Dec. 24.