Brian Gornick, Sports Editor
After a nail-biting finish against the Los Angeles Rams last week for their first playoff win since 1991, the Lions were back home at Ford Field for another home playoff game against the NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The quarterbacks were the story line going into the game. Both quarterbacks, Tampa Bay's Baker Mayfield and Detroit's Jared Goff, were with teams that they were not drafted by. Both were previous first overall selections in their respective drafts, and when both were traded, they were deemed to be on the end of their careers as starting quarterbacks.
Both Goff and Mayfield chose to bet on themselves, and each has reaped the benefits. The Lions under Goff have steadily improved, going 3-13-1 in 2021, 9-8 in 2022, and 12-5 in 2023 with the first playoff win since 1991. Baker signed a one-year deal with the Buccaneers the prior off season, and led them to a 9-8 record, as well as an NFC South title.
Both quarterbacks also faced each other before this season. The Lions traveled to Tampa in October to play the Buccaneers during the regular season, beating them 20-6. With the Lions one win away from their first NFC Championship game appearance since 1991, Sunday’s game was sure to excite, and it didn’t disappoint.
The Lions elected to receive the ball to begin, but were forced to punt after a quick three-and-out. On the Buccaneers first offensive drive, a tipped pass allowed Lions safety C.J. Gardner Johnson to intercept the ball for a 12-yard game. The Lions kicked a field goal off of the turnover, taking a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter.
A field goal from the Buccaneers tied the game, but the Lions took the lead back with a 6-minute scoring drive that was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds. A scoreless string of field goals and a missed 50-yard Buccaneers field goal would be broken by a 2-yard touchdown pass by Mayfield to tight end Cade Otton with less than a minute to go into the half. After a Lions kneel, the game was 10-10 at the half.
Three consecutive punts began the second half, with both teams trading touchdowns on the next three drives, with the Lions going up 24-17 in the start of the fourth quarter. The Lions defense forced another three-and-out, allowing the offense to capitalize with a 9-yard touchdown pass to All-Pro wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, extending the Lions lead to 31-17.
With the desperation piling up for the Buccaneers to keep themselves in the game, the Buccaneers drove quickly into the Lions red zone with quick 10-yard plus gains. A 16-yard pass to receiver Mike Evans brought the Bucs back within one score. Instead of kicking a PAT, the Buccaneers elected to go for two to bring the game within six points but failed to convert, keeping the Lions lead to eight.
Looking to end the game with only a few minutes left to go in the game, the Lions were forced to punt at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line with just under two minutes left.
The Lions defense held strong however, with third year linebacker Derrick Barnes intercepting Mayfield on the second play of the drive. With Barnes’ interception, the Lions were able to kneel out the rest of the clock, winning their second consecutive playoff game en route to the NFC Championship game.
The Lions will play the 12-5 San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game in San Francisco on Sunday, January 28 at 6:30 p.m. EST.