Jared Goff knows what being part of a winning NFL team feels like. He was the quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams when they won the NFC Championship in 2018.
After his Lions pulled out a scrappy victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the opening game of the 2023 NFL season in a notoriously adverse road environment, the second-year Detroit QB dropped an apparent team buzzword. It’s one that reflects that this current Lions team is constructed to live up to rising expectations.
“I think we’re to the point now where we’re built for environments like this, to go on the road, to anywhere, and pull out a win,” Goff said in his postgame presser.
Head coach Dan Campbell also fired the word at his players, knowing they could register a memorable win.
“I told the team we’re built for this,” he told the assembled media.
Goff said the Lions did not play a flawless game at Kansas City, but from his experience, the final score ended up in their favor because winning teams often find routes to coming out on top. The ex-Ram knows what he is talking about, as his 2018 squad won 13 regular-season games.
“We just didn’t play our best ball today,” Goff said. “We kind of just got away with one in some ways, but that’s what good teams do. That’s what we’re starting to become now, and it’s a good feeling.”
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Detroit trailed by seven points at halftime, and a Marvin Jones Jr. fumble in the red zone snuffed out a potential scoring drive. The Lions failed to convert 10 times on third down and did not register a sack of Patrick Mahomes.
Yet even after his turnover, Jones said these Lions didn’t get down on themselves, as many longtime fans might have done while watching from afar.
“We knew we had control,” Jones said. “We don’t bat an eye. It is what it is, and we won the game.”
Campbell had his team well-prepared for any down points during the game, and the Lions were focused on bouncing back.
“We knew we were going to hit some tough spots in this game against a really good opponent, and that happened. Nobody got down, nobody got frazzled, and we just hung in there,” Campbell said.
Detroit shook off the turnover and came up with a pivotal one of its own early in the third quarter. A Mahomes pass went through the hands of Kansas City wide receiver Kadarius Toney and into the hands of rookie safety Brian Branch, who returned the interception for a dramatic 50-yard touchdown.
“A guy like Brian Branch steps up and makes that play. He’s a playmaker. That put us right back in the game,” Goff said. “They score there, the game could get busted open. He put us right back in it.”
Looking back on the game, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson confirmed that Branch spurred his team to victory.
“There’s always a couple of plays that could go either way, but they decide the game,” Hutchinson said.
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The Chiefs moved out to a 20-14 lead, yet Detroit stayed within striking distance and ultimately took the lead for good. A nine-play, 76-yard drive, capped off by an eight-yard TD run by David Montgomery at 7:06 of the fourth quarter, gave the Lions the lead for good.
Goff hooked up with wide receiver Josh Reynolds for two big plays on the drive, connecting with him for 18 and 33 yards.
“It’s something we talk about, closing games out. It’s something we worked a lot on, situational football,” Campbell said about the preseason preparation for such a critical series.
Goff was crisp when he most needed to be, yet he credited the defense for putting his offense in position to execute the decisive scoring blow.
“A lot of work’s been put in this offseason, and you want to start off winning the first one,” Goff said. “I thought the defense kept us in the game for the most part. When we had to be great we were, and found a way.”
This is not the same Detroit team that agonized through a 1-6 start last season, losing four games by four points or less. The first feat of the 2023 Lions was to win a close game against a prime opponent on the road, signaling that this is more like the squad that went on to win eight of its final 10 games last year.
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Campbell said that the team’s collective mindset has shifted far away from where they were a year ago.
“We expected to win this game,” Campbell said. “We came in here, and we knew what we needed to do, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and we did that.”
After a 3-13 campaign in 2021 and stumbling through the first half of last season, Campbell will savor the newer aura of success for a short spell.
“I think any win at this point after what we’ve kind of endured over the last couple of years is going to feel good,” he said. “But I know this. I’m going to enjoy it for about two to three days here; then it’s back to work. Because it’s all for naught if you don’t carry it over.”
The Lions fans, who have suffered for so long, will undoubtedly revel in the team’s biggest regular-season win in recent memory. They showed up in healthy numbers in Kansas City and actually made their presence felt in a road venue that is notorious for drowning out opponents.
“When I walked out in pregame, I’m looking, you see the sea of blue, I’m like, ‘wow.’ And then about the third quarter, you could start hearing them.
“And it just started to grow as we got into the fourth quarter. They made themselves known, and we could feel it. We see you, and it’s much appreciated,” Campbell said.
Some naysayers searching for negatives may point to the fact that Kansas City was without Travis Kelce and Chris Jones, and the Lions may not have beaten the best version of the Chiefs.
“Even if it’s ugly, it’s a win, and we’re happy about it,” Goff said.
The Kansas City wide receivers also dropped eight passes, a significant storyline in their sloppy performance.
“I’d like to believe that we had a hand in that by the way we played, too,” Campbell said. “Our aggressiveness, our hustle, we were physical, and I thought that really played into our favor today.”
Ultimately, Hutchinson said that the Lions came away feeling great about what could be a springboard win to the best Detroit season in a very long time. While doing so, he invoked his version of that buzzword again.
“Big credit to our team for sticking it out,” Hutchinson said. “Some adversity, away game, first one of the season. I’m very impressed with what we did, and we’re going to build off this.”