NEW ORLEANS — The Detroit Lions forced two takeaways, didn't turn the ball over once and jumped out to a three-score lead before some fans even reached their seats. Still, it was barely enough. The New Orleans Saints pieced together a furious comeback effort in the second half before falling just short Sunday at the Superdome, 33-28.
The Lions couldn't have dreamed up a better start to the matchup. Setting an immediate tone after last week's embarrassing loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Lions' offensive line exerted its will during a seven-play touchdown drive to open the contest. The team handed the ball to running back David Montgomery four consecutive times to open the series. They'd end up keeping it on the ground six of the seven plays, with Montgomery capping the action with a 2-yard score around the right side of his formation.
That lead quickly blossomed to 21 in the next three minutes, thanks to a similarly strong start by Detroit's defense.
On the Saints' first snap of the day, quarterback Derek Carr's pass ricocheted off the hands of wide receiver Juwan Johnson and into the waiting arms of rookie defensive back Brian Branch, who returned the takeaway into the red zone. From there, the Lions (9-3) needed just three plays to return to the end zone, with quarterback Jared Goff connecting to tight end Sam LaPorta out of motion for a 13-yard touchdown, the rookie's sixth score of the season.
Following a three-and-out for the Saints (5-7), the Lions once again needed three plays to cross the goal line. LaPorta delivered the first chunk, gaining 29 yards on a post pattern. And on the next snap, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown took a short throw, broke an immediate tackle attempt and split the safeties, en route to a 25-yard score that put the Lions up 21-0, following the PAT.
That matched the most points by the Lions in the first quarter of a game in franchise history, but the scoring frenzy fizzled out the remainder of the frame, prior to the Saints getting on the board six minutes into the second quarter. Detroit had its opportunities to get a stop, but the secondary surrendered completions that converted a pair of third-and-longs, setting up a 6-yard strike from Carr to tight end Jimmy Graham, who bested the man-to-man coverage of safety Tracy Walker.
The sides briefly traded punts before the Lions drove into the red zone during the closing minutes of the half. The series stalled when rookie guard Colby Sorsdal gave up immediate pocket pressure on third down from the 8-yard line, hurrying Goff into an incompletion. That left the Lions to settle for a short, Riley Patterson field goal to go into the locker room with a 24-7 edge.
The Saints proved able to slice that to 10 coming out of the break, driving 75 yards on 10 plays with the opening possession of the second half. Early in the series, part-time quarterback Taysom Hill underthrew a deep shot to a wide-open Chris Olave, but Carr didn't miss on a second long ball to the talented receiver, netting 33 yards down to the 2-yard line, setting up a scoring plunge by running back Alvin Kamara.
Hindered by a false-start penalty against LaPorta, the Lions didn't have an answer, going three-and-out and punting the ball back to the Saints. And the opposition stayed hot to open the third quarter, piecing together a second touchdown drive.
Continuing to attack deep, the Saints got a quick 28 yards on a throw to Olave, followed up by a 19-yard completion to tight end Foster Moreau. Five snaps later, after a short touchdown run by Kamara was overturned by replay, Hill powered through for a 1-yard score, cutting Detroit's lead to three, 24-21.
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