Vie. Feb 23rd, 2024

DETROIT — The Detroit Lions kept their storybook season going and advanced to their first NFC Championship Game since 1991 following a 31-23 divisional-round victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Detroit will play the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 28 with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Here’s a closer look at each team’s performance:

Detroit Lions

Detroit, hosting its second playoff game in the same postseason for the first time in franchise history, got off to a slow start offensively.

The game was tied at the end of the first, second and third quarters before the Lions broke free in the fourth as rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs came alive to spark the ground attack.

Promising trend: Over his past four games, second-year edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson has registered eight sacks — including one against Tampa Bay. Prior to that, Hutchinson went without a sack in three straight games, but said he «figured out my own identity» during that stretch. The Lions’ defense recorded three sacks in a playoff game for the fourth time since team sacks became official in 1963.

QB breakdown: Goff went 30-for-43 for 287 yards, and he threw for two touchdowns in a playoff game for the first time in his career. The Lions ended with 391 yards of total offense against Tampa Bay after posting 334 total net yards in their wild-card game against the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 14. Goff went 11-for-12 for 131 yards and a TD in the fourth quarter.

Biggest hole in the game plan: The Lions’ secondary. Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans torched Detroit’s defense with eight catches for 147 yards, and the Buccaneers registered 349 passing yards. During their wild-card matchup versus the Los Angeles Rams, the Lions also struggled to cover rookie receiver Puka Nacua, who went off for 181 receiving yards on nine catches — including a 50-yard touchdown. This is an area of concern for the Lions when facing good receivers. — Eric Woodyard

Next game: Jan. 28 at San Francisco, 6:30 p.m. ET

Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles told his players all week to «weather the storm in the first quarter» against the Lions — the league’s highest-scoring first quarter offense in 2023 — but the fourth quarter stung them the most. They surrendered two touchdowns to Goff and Co., who completed 9-of-9 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a devastating interception to seal the game for Detroit.

This ended the Bucs’ «Revenge Tour» as inside linebacker Devin White put it, with no redemption against the Lions after a Week 6 loss and no shot to avenge their Week 11 loss to the 49ers. They did, however, defy expectations outside the organization in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement, finishing the year at 10-9 after dropping five out of six games midway through the season with questions raised about Bowles’ job status. Now, the Bucs enter the offseason with questions looming over two key figures on offense: quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Mike Evans.

QB breakdown: Mayfield completed 26 of 41 passes for 349 yards, with three TDs and two interceptions. On fourth-and-14, trailing 31-17 in the fourth quarter, Mayfield found Evans for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 31-23 with a failed two-point conversion attempt as Evans was out of bounds. Mayfield’s first pick came during the Bucs’ opening drive on a tipped pass intended for Evans that was intercepted by safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, setting up a 23-yard field goal for the Lions. His second pick — and the game-ender — came with 1:35 remaining and the Bucs trailing by 8 points.

Biggest hole in the game plan: The Bucs pressured Goff on 26% of his dropbacks despite blitzing 47% of the time. He was sacked twice but appeared largely unaffected by everything the Bucs threw at him.

Pivotal play: The Lions went for it on fourth-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line with 3:51 to go in the third quarter, and RB Craig Reynolds ran it up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown. The decision to go for it bolstered the Lions’ chances of winning the game by 70.5% according to ESPN Analytics.

Eye-popping NextGen stat: Mayfield was sacked in under 3.10 seconds twice Sunday, the two fastest sacks he took all season. He was sacked in 2.77 seconds by Hutchinson and in 3.07 seconds by safety Ifeatu Melifonwu. — Jenna Laine

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