East Rutherford, NJ — For the second time this season, a coaching decision to attempt a long field goal in the fourth quarter almost cost the Detroit Lions a game, and in this case, potentially a playoff spot.
But with time running out in the fourth quarter, quarterback Jared Goff found Brock Wright open in space on a fourth-and-one throw and the tight end was able to rumble 51 yards for the game-winning score as the Lions topped the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, 20-17.
The play design involved Goff faking a handoff to the running back and Wright selling a block before leaking across the formation.
“That play, we’ve kinda had going all year,” Goff said. “I threw a touchdown on it, actually, against Chicago, similar type of play. And, yeah, thought it was a great call. He’s the No. 2 in the progression and got back to him, and (he) totally redeemed himself for that (drop) earlier in the drive. He’s a lot faster than people know.”
The Jets had a shot to respond, and managed to work into field goal range with a desperation throw in the final seconds, but Greg Zuerlein missed a potential game-tying, 58-yard field goal as time expired.
BOX SCORE: Lions 20, Jets 17
Prior to Wright’s heroics, the Lions had opted to attempt a 54-yard field goal midway through the final quarter, as opposed to pinning a struggling New York Jets offense deep in their own territory with a punt. But, Michael Badgley’s kick came up short, and the Jets capitalized with a drive ending with a go-ahead 1-yard touchdown pass from Zach Wilson to CJ Uzomah.
“That was one of those where, man, it was a hard decision, one way or another,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I wanted to go for it. We had just thrown the ball, it didn’t work out, it’s incomplete, you’re probably going to need to throw it again. We were just on that fringe, we were so close to where I felt really good about Badgley. It was on that line, so I took a shot and it didn’t work out.”
The victory moves the Lions to 7-7 on the season and, barring a tie, will have them a half-game behind the loser of Sunday night’s game between the New York Giants and Washington Commanders for the final spot in the NFC with three games remaining.
The Lions have won six of their last seven.
“Yeah, we’ll see what happens,” Goff said. “We’ll be watching. We win (our remaining games), we’ve got a good chance. We don’t win ’em, probably don’t.”
As many anticipated, points were difficult to come by for the Lions and Jets on Sunday, at least until the closing minutes of the game.
The Lions actually had an opportunity to grab an early lead, taking the opening kickoff and driving deep into Jets territory. Running the ball three straight times after earning a first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, the Lions opted to go for it on fourth down, needing less than a yard, but running back Jamaal Williams was stuffed behind the line, turning the ball over to the Jets.
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Unable to do anything in the shadow of their own end zone, New York was forced to punt after going three-and-out. And after nearly breaking one last week against the Minnesota Vikings, return man Kalif Raymond made the first man miss and found a seam, bringing the boot back 47 yards for a touchdown to put the Lions up seven following the PAT.
“I saw a lot of guys blocking really hard,” Raymond said. “When you see me catch it, the guys on the outside — it was Jerry Jacobs and Amani (Oruwariye) — held up their guys. It was almost like a wall. I barely had to do anything, it was all those guys. . .. I always tell those guys, man, I’ve never seen a returner break 11 tackles. There’s 10 other guys on the field and those guys make the play happen.”
The two sides traded punts the remainder of the opening quarter before the Jets tied the game early in the second frame. Rolling out of the pocket on back-to-back snaps, Wilson connected with rookie receiver Garrett Wilson on a 33-yard pass, one play before hooking up with tight end Uzomah for a 40-yard touchdown.
Uzomah, running a vertical route from the left slot, juked Lions safety Kerby Joseph before breaking open towards the right sideline where Wilson found him for the long score.
Detroit managed to regain the lead on the ensuing possession, putting together a lengthy 15-play drive. The offense appeared to have a touchdown when Williams broke through the line for an 11-yard touchdown, but a holding call against guard Evan Brown negated the run.
Brown got flagged for a second hold two snaps later, leaving the Lions to settle for a 31-yard Michael Badgley field goal.
That 10-7 score looked like it would hold heading into the half, but Wilson connected on consecutive passes to backup receiver Jeff Smith for 66 yards, including a 50-yard bomb, which beat the coverage of cornerback Jeff Okudah. That allowed the Jets to tie it back up with a 34-yard Zuerlein field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
Looking to grab their first lead of the day coming out of the break, Wilson made an awful decision, throwing a ball that was easily intercepted by Jacobs, the cornerback who returned it 38 yards down the sideline to the Jets 15-yard line.
“We saw (Wilson) do it in the first quarter, so we just had to adjust what we were doing,” Jacobs said. “I think he thought we were doing what we were doing in the first half, and that’s why he floated it up.”
It was the first interception of Jacobs’ career.
But the Lions weren’t able to take full advantage of the takeaway, losing a yard on three snaps before turning to Badgley for a 34-yard kick that put them back on top, 13-10.
That score remained the same through the remainder of the third quarter as neither team could move the ball, combining for 27 yards of offense on four possessions.
“They’re really good and they’re one of the top, I don’t know, five, six defenses in the league for a reason,” Goff said. “Really good at creating pressure with just four guys, and really good at mixing up coverages and really aggressive. Both corners are really good, both safeties are really good. Yeah, it’s a good group and they challenged us for most of that game. “
The Jets opened the fourth quarter going three-and-out for the third time, but managed to pin the Lions at their own 9-yard line with the punt. Behind a balanced attack, Detroit’s offense clawed out of the hole before another holding penalty, this time against center Frank Ragnow, caused the drive to stall.
Instead of playing it safe with a punt, the Lions opted for a 54-yard field goal attempt for Badgley, which came up short, giving the Jets possession at their own 44.
Capitalizing on the favorable field position, Zach Wilson heaved a jump ball down the right sideline to Garrett Wilson, who went up over cornerback Will Harris for a 33-yard reception into field-goal range. But the Jets wouldn’t settle for three this series.
After a quarterback sneak was stuffed on second down, Uzomah hauled in a 1-yard touchdown reception out of play-action to put the Jets on top, 17-13, with 4:45 remaining.
But the Lions found an answer. Facing fourth-and-one, Goff flicked the ball to Wright, coming across the formation. The tight end did the rest, rumbling down the sideline for a 51-yard touchdown to put the Lions back ahead, 20-17, with just under two minutes remaining.
“I was just thinking, finish,” Wright said. “I expected the ball to come to me (and) make the catch. Obviously, get the first down and then whatever yards I can get after that. Then I saw how open it was, I was thinking, ‘End zone, end zone. ‘”
Now .500 on the season for the first time since Week 2, the Lions will head back on the road to face the Carolina Panthers (5-9) next Saturday.
“We kind of talked about it — it’s a six-game season for us. That’s three down,” Campbell said. “… Man, it was great. That’s part of the maturing process, the growth, because I don’t know if we would have made those plays earlier in the year. Something would have gone the other way. That just shows we ‘re getting more mature, and we’re becoming more disciplined in the critical moments. That’s big.”