Lions grades: Defense erases Jets’ rushing attack, wreaks havoc in close win

The Detroit Lions (7-7) are coming home winners after beating the New York Jets (7-7) 20-17 in Week 15 from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. This post will run through MLive’s grades from Detroit’s latest win:

Quarterbacks: Jared Goff kept it clean again, doing more good than bad. Goff hit 23 of 38 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown. He wasn’t the crispest or as efficient as he’s been on this hot stretch. But the quarterback owns the longest active streak in the league, not throwing an interception through his last 219 passes. Goff sold the play-action and made the right read on Brock Wright’s game-winning touchdown. He also left one short for Jameson Williams, who had an open end zone in front of him in the first half. Goff wanted that one back. But it’s hard to ignore his chemistry with Kalif Raymond and Amon-Ra St. Brown on the inside, with the Jets taking away most of the action outside. The quarterback passed for 14 of the team’s 17 first downs. Grade: B-

Running backs: Jamaal Williams had a touchdown deleted due to offensive holding. And D’Andre Swift had a nice run to the pylon wiped away for the same reason on the same drive. It was another tougher day than usual on the ground. Swift flashed, running eight times for 52 yards. But Williams was locked up, gaining only 33 yards on 13 attempts. Williams was stuffed on fourth-and-1 on the game’s first drive, with less than stellar blocking on that attempt. And Justin Jackson couldn’t get anything going, either, adding 16 yards on six shots. Grade: C+

Wide receivers: With Jets rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner deleting one side of the field, not being targeted in coverage once in Week 15, the Lions had to work over the middle. And while they were kept out of the end zone until the fourth-and-1 out of the final two-minute warning. Kalif Raymond and Amon-Ra St. Brown answered the call. St. Brown caught seven of 10 targets for 76 yards. Raymond secured five of six looks for 53 yards against his former team, adding a punt-return touchdown. They were the security blankets this offense needed. DJ Chark caught one pass on two targets for 18 yards. Jameson Williams saw only one target, the short deep shot from Goff. Josh Reynolds got blanked. But all in all, this group was a positive. Grade: B+

Tight ends: Brock Wright didn’t look great on the fourth-and-goal on the failed opening possession. He had an ugly drop early on Detroit’s game-clinching drive, trailing 17-13 in the fourth quarter. But nobody will remember that, thanks to his game-winning 51-yard touchdown. Next Gen Stats reports Wright “was expected to gain 31 yards after the catch,” the second-most of anyone all year, so yeah, he was that open. Rookie James Mitchell caught both targets for 12 yards. Shane Zylstra caught one pass for 4 yards. This group didn’t have the best day blocking. But it’s hard to watch Wright’s heroic catch-and-run and not slap a strong grade on this section. Grade: A-

Offensive line: We’ve covered the inefficient day on the ground. Not the best day in that department for this group. And Evan Brown got caught holding twice on one series, erasing a 15-yard touchdown run and solid gain by Swift to the pylon. Brown took some bumps in his first game back in a couple of weeks. Frank Ragnow got called for holding, off-setting a third-down penalty by the defense. On the bright side, the pocket was strong. Jared Goff wasn’t sacked, with the quarterback taking five hits. And Taylor Decker flashed his leadership skills on the game-deciding drive. Decker pulled rookie Jameson Williams away from a heated exchange, getting the offense back to the line in a hurry. The Jets brought a top-five defense into this one, and while they were missing star Quinnen Williams, this is a legit group. Grade: B

Defensive line: The defensive line helped stifle the Jets and their rushing attack while creating pressure and getting home for a handful of sacks. The Jets were held to only 50 yards on 22 attempts, with a long rush of 6 yards on the day. That’s a 2.3-yard per-carry average. Zonovan “Bam” Knight kept running into a wall — 13 carries for 23 yards, breaking one 5-yard run. And it wasn’t just the work on the ground. The Lions hit Zach Wilson 10 times, getting home for four sacks and seven tackles for loss. John Cominsky and Romeo Okwara had sacks on the final crucial drive. Okwara had another one, too, notching two sacks in his second game back in more than a year. And expect rave reviews for prized rookie Aidan Hutchinson’s game. Hutchinson, who entered questionable with an illness, had five tackles, including one for loss. Grade: A

Linebackers: Alex Anzalone keeps making plays. The veteran linebacker had five tackles, including one for loss while adding a quarterback hit. It wasn’t the busiest day, with Malcolm Rodriguez adding only two takedowns. But they didn’t blow any assignments while keeping the rushing attack contained and New York’s offense in desperation mode. Grade: B+

Secondary: There were some ugly breakdowns in this one. Another roller-coaster game for the defensive backfield. Cornerback Jerry Jacobs came up with his first interception, leading to a field goal to open the second half. And Will Harris forced an intentional grounding in the first half and added a tackle for loss. But, like the rest of this group, Harris got beat downfield at one point. Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was erratic, completing only 18 of 35 passes for 317 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. But rookie wideout Garrett Wilson got behind the secondary in key spots, and tight end CJ Uzomah did the same on his 40-yard score, with DeShon Elliott blitzing and Kerby Joseph getting beat. Jeff Okudah had his moments, but he misread a deep ball in the first half, getting beat one-on-one on a Wilson heave. The Jets converted on third-and-19 and fourth-and-18 on the final drive. That can’t happen. Grade: C

Special teams: Kalif Raymond finally took one to the house. Raymond opened the game with a 46-yard punt-return touchdown, which would carry the Lions through most of this one. It was easy business, with the speedy Raymond using those strong blocks to success. Michael Badgley missed the 54-yard field goal that almost came back to haunt the Lions. He connected on one from 34 yards earlier. And Jack Fox punted four times for an average of 44.5 yards, with a net average of 38 yards. Braxton Berrios was held to a 19-yard kick-return average, getting only 6 yards on his lone punt return. Grade: A-

Coaching: It’s hard to imagine Dan Campbell calling for another 54-yard field goal down the stretch this year. That decision is one of the blunders that sticks out since it was a mistake the head coach made earlier in the season against Minnesota. Campbell went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and failed, too. But they’ve ridden the Jamaal Williams touchdown train all season to much success, so it’s hard to fault them there. That’s still a wise decision and one that was rewarded by the short-field punt-return touchdown.

Other than that, it was a strong defensive showing. Aaron Glenn’s defense took away the run while getting consistent pressure. The breakdowns in coverage need addressing. But another mostly positive showing. And Ben Johnson had more of the good stuff dialed up down the stretch. The Lions have won three straight games on the road for the first time since 2017. They went on the road against a top-five defense in December, fell behind late, and still found a way to win their sixth game in seven tries. Fourth-and-1 coming out of the two-minute warning, and Johnson has Amon-Ra St. Brown motion to the right side, with Brock Wright selling a block and slipping underneath on the play action. It was a call for the ages and made up for the ho-hum offensive showing through the first 58 minutes. Grade: B+

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