Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) fumbles the ball against the Detroit Lions in the second half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.
ALLEN PARK, Mich.
Matt Patricia came to Detroit with a defensive background, so it will be no surprise if the Lions keep playing tight, low-scoring games.
Turnovers can be particularly harmful in matchups like that, but Detroit got away with those mistakes in a win over the Chargers.
Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions — and Matt Prater missed a field goal and an extra point — but the Lions overcame all that to beat Los Angeles 13-10 on Sunday. The Chargers matched Detroit’s two turnovers and had kicking problems of their own, so the Lions now have a win and a tie to their credit after playing two games that could have easily gone either way.
“Any time you win, you try to use it as a step forward,” said Patricia, in his second season as Detroit’s coach after a successful run as New England’s defensive coordinator. “But I think they’re only step forwards if you really learn from the mistakes that you made within those games. I think if you mask any of that or try to just move past it or think that those mistakes aren’t going to happen again just because you won — I think it’s important for us to get it fixed and corrected.”
Detroit (1-0-1) allowed 424 yards of offense against Los Angeles, but aside from the latter half of the fourth quarter in Week 1 against Arizona, the Lions have done a good job keeping teams off the scoreboard. That blueprint to keep teams out of the end zone and avoid mistakes on offense could serve Detroit well, especially after the team added defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels in the offseason.
But the Lions didn’t do a good job avoiding miscues Sunday. Stafford had gone five straight games without an interception, but he was picked off twice on ill-advised deep throws. Prater’s misses could have been costly, too, on a rare afternoon of shakiness from a kicker who has been terrific for Detroit.
The Lions were fortunate that Los Angeles wasted opportunities of its own, especially on a third-quarter drive when the Chargers had two touchdowns called back for penalties and eventually lost a fumble near the goal line.
One encouraging moment for the Lions came on the final drive, when Detroit was able to run out the clock after Stafford threw to Jesse James to convert third-and-6. The previous weekend, the Lions appeared poised to ice a victory in similar fashion at Arizona, but a timeout from the sideline halted a third-down play late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a building block for us mentally as a team, just where we are as a team, emotionally and everything,” offensive lineman Frank Ragnow said. “Just being able to say, ‘Hey we did it. We finished a game and we were able to come through at the end.'”
Stafford’s receiving targets have already had some nice moments this season. Rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson had a good debut against the Cardinals, and receiver Kenny Golladay had eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. Golladay made a tough catch over the middle on the 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Lions ahead.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Detroit’s running game has looked ordinary. Kerryon Johnson had only 41 yards on 12 carries Sunday, his second straight game under 50 yards rushing. Johnson did score on a 36-yard catch and run in the first quarter.
Rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai, a second-round draft pick, forced the key fumble at the goal line and was the Lions’ second-leading tackler.
Punt returner Jamal Agnew, who muffed a punt in the opener, was relieved of that duty against the Chargers. Danny Amendola took over punt returns in the second quarter. Patricia said he believes in Agnew but needed to make a decision in the moment.
Offensive lineman Taylor Decker (back) and linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) — Detroit’s first-round picks in 2016 and 2017 — were inactive Sunday.
3 — The number of tackles through two games for Flowers, the big offseason acquisition. Detroit didn’t allow many points against the Chargers, but there’s still room for that defensive front to improve.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Lions, who face the Eagles and Chiefs in their next two games. The game this weekend is at Philadelphia.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister