It’d been the same for 34 games. The Detroit Lions would force, at best, one interception. Despite being led by a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Patricia, Detroit just couldn’t force turnovers.
They couldn’t create the game-changing plays necessary to win games. Going into Sunday against Arizona, it figured to be more of the same. Kyler Murray was playing at a good pace, completing two-thirds of his passes and generally making the right reads.
However, within three drives in Detroit’s 26-23 win over Arizona, the Lions had done something they never have under Patricia. They intercepted multiple passes in a game. First came Duron Harmon off a tipped pass. Then came Jamie Collins, whose pressure on Murray helped force a rushed throw leading to the first interception, with a good read to step in front of Larry Fitzgerald for interception No. 2.
One ugly streak ended on a day where a lot of ignominy of the Lions defense fell temporarily along with the team’s 11-game losing streak dating back to October of 2019.
“Turnovers are critical every single week. We talked about it through the course of the week. We just hadn’t had them on defense,” Patricia said. “Something that was really important to us and I thought the guys did a great job of making plays.”
The Lions had three interceptions Sunday – the two in the first half and then Jeff Okudah’s first career interception in the second. The Lions almost had a fourth, too, but Harmon dropped a ball he had a strong break on and after the game he told Patricia he owed him one for it.
This was a more active defense for Detroit than it had been the past two weeks. While quarterback hits weren’t high – they likely won’t ever be facing Murray – the Lions defended six passes. Romeo Okwara had his first sack of the season.
And the Lions did this by largely keeping Murray in the pocket, not allowing him to escape and run where he can be so devastating. Detroit held him to five carries for 29 yards.
It was a smart game plan all around from Patricia. Use the run on offense – 27 carries compared to 31 passes – to shorten the game and help out the team’s defense, which struggled so often in losses to Chicago and Green Bay.
Patricia also trusted his defense – a unit that had struggled so often throughout his tenure in Detroit – in the fourth quarter by choosing to punt from Arizona’s 45-yard line. The Lions pinned the Cardinals at their own 2-yard line and the defense then forced their only three-and-out of the day.
“You could feel from the players that they were determined to try to do everything they could to help the team win and just get the ball back to our offense,” Patricia said. “So I think the players did a great job of just staying the course, not riding the wave and staying consistent all the way through and staying in the moment.
“And that was great to see. We’ve got to build on that.”
One win doesn’t mean Detroit’s problems completely go away. DeAndre Hopkins still had 10 catches for 137 yards. The Cardinals still averaged 4.0 yards per carry and the Lions. And while this has little to do with the defense, the three forced turnovers led to three possessions started on Arizona’s side of the field. Of those, only one resulted in a touchdown (the other two were field goals).
Could this be the start of something to build on for the Lions? It’s possible. Could it just be Patricia in Week 3 of an NFL season, where despite having a 10-24-1 overall record he’s somehow 3-0 in the third week of the year? Maybe. This is still a regime that, with Sunday's win, finally won more games under Patricia than the nine games his predecessor, Jim Caldwell, won in his final year as the team's head coach.
This week, though, will be something different for Detroit. For the first time in exactly 11 months, the Lions go into a week coming off of a win instead of a loss.