By Erik Lewis, Feature Writer
A new era of Detroit Lions football began on Monday Night Football. Led by head coach Jim Caldwell’s new staff, the Lions organization wanted a new attitude with the same swagger on offense and defense. The Lions dismantled the New York Giants in their home opener with in a 35-14 rout on Monday Night.
Matt Stafford found Calvin Johnson early and often in the first half to get out to a 14-7.
Five plays into the first quarter, Stafford eluded the Giants pass rush while rolling to his right before throwing back across the field to Johnson for a 67-yard touchdown.
“When Matt breaks that pocket, you have to continue to work,” Johnson said. “He can put it anywhere on the field for you.”
Stafford completed 22-for-32 passes for 346 yards and three total touchdowns, utilizing his new weapon Golden Tate (six catches for 93 yards) when Johnson was doubled or not on the field.
“I had enough time to peek out there to make sure nothing bad was going to happen,” Stafford said. “I threw him a ball, and he did the rest, obviously.”
“I work out with Stafford sometimes in the off-season,” Johnson added of his relationship with Stafford. “We do a lot of footwork drills. You see it paying off. … He’s confident in his feet. … He’s running better than he has in the past (and) he’s running smart.
Holding a slim 14-7 edge coming out of the locker room, the Lions extended the lead quickly when DeAndre Levy made one-handed shoelace interception of Eli Manning to set up a field goal.
“I threw the ball too soon,” Manning said. “A bad decision by me.”
The interception was Levy’s 12th of his six-year career, but he said there was still more work to do.
“There were a lot of plays we left on the field,” Levy said following the game.
Offensively, the Lions would add one more field goal six minutes later, before Manning’s second interception set up the Lions with excellent field position. Stafford took advantage, running for a 5-yard touchdown five plays later give the Lions a 27-7 lead.
New York would add a Rashad Jennings touchdown to cap off a 14-play, 80 yard drive in seven minutes to open the fourth quarter. The Lions answered with a long drive of their own, driving 80 yards to put the game away with Joique Bell 3-yard touchdown scamper.
The Lions were effective on offense, gaining 417 yards on 63 plays. But some similar issues persisted for the Lions on defense, like penalties.
Seen as a bullying (thug) type of defense with players like Ndamukong Suh, the Lions want to take a step forward to change that M.O., while still playing hard-nosed football.
The Lions didn’t have as many inexcusable penalties on Monday, but they did rack up eight for 85 yards.
At the end of the first quarter, a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Giants a second chance that led to a touchdown.
Outside of those issues, Detroit’s defense held its own, keeping the Giants under 200 total yards (197) on 57 plays (3.5 yards per play) and forcing two turnovers. Manning was under pressure often in passing situations, and the running game never got going. The Lions had just two sacks, but were able to get in the face of Manning to force quick throws.
For New York, the Giants had a similar approach in the offseason. Head coach Tom Coughlin wanted to improve its offensive efficiency, so he brought in former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo.
McAdoo brought over a similar system that the coaching staff in Green Bay used, which allows the quarterback to call more audibles before the snap. But it was same old, same old for the Giants.
“We played very poorly and don’t have a lot to be proud of,” Coughlin said after the game.
The rough adjustment period continues for the Giants, and it couldn’t have started worse than it on Monday Night for the Giants. Eli Manning completed 18-of-33 passes for a touchdown and two interceptions, but he looked uncomfortable in the pocket and pre-snap attempting to change plays.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in that room that doesn’t realize that the bubble has been burst,” Coughlin said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”