By Larry Holder, Colton Pouncy and Mike Jones
It’s only the second time in NFL history where this statement has been true: The Detroit Lions are one win away from a berth in the Super Bowl.
The Lions pulled away in the fourth quarter after both teams flip-flopped scoring throughout the first three quarters as Detroit knocked off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 in the NFC divisional round on Sunday at Ford Field.
Detroit will travel to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship next Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. The Niners toppled the Green Bay Packers in Saturday’s divisional round matchup.
This will be the Lions’ second NFC Championship Game appearance in the Super Bowl era. Detroit fell to Washington in the 1991 season in its first appearance.
Rookie tailback Jahmyr Gibbs darted through the middle of the offensive line, then took his cut to the left for a 31-yard touchdown run with 13:13 left in the game to push the Lions ahead 24-17. Then Detroit sealed it when Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 9-yard TD pass to make it 31-17 with 6:22 remaining.
Goff went 30-of-43 passing for 287 yards with two touchdowns resulting in a 103.5 passer rating.
Pure speed from the rookie.
— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2024
The Bucs managed to cut the lead to 31-23 on the next possession when Baker Mayfield found Mike Evans for a 16-yard TD pass at the 4:41 mark. The two-point conversion attempt failed. Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes picked off Mayfield with 1:33 left, though, to thwart any comeback.
The Lions’ fourth-quarter scoring sequence erased the trend from the first 45 minutes.
Detroit’s Craig Reynolds punched in a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down to push Detroit up 17-10 with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter. Mayfield helped Tampa Bay tie it up on the ensuing possession with a second game-tying TD by hitting Rachaad White on a screen pass for a 12-yard scoring connection.
Mayfield went 26-of-41 passing for 349 yards with three TDs and two interceptions for a 94.5 passer rating. Evans hauled in eight receptions for 147 yards and one TD.
The back-and-forth scoring trend started in the first half. Detroit broke a 3-3 tie when Goff hit Josh Reynolds on a crossing route for a 9-yard touchdown connection early in the second quarter.
The Athletic has live coverage of Chiefs vs. Bills in the AFC divisional round matchup
Then Evans added consecutive catches of 27 and 29 yards from Mayfield with less than a minute left put the Bucs at the 2. Mayfield capped off a 92-yard drive by finding Cade Otton on the next play for a 2-yard TD grab to make it 10-10 heading into halftime.
4th and Goal? Lions are going for it.
— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2024
Lions fans, this is happening!
The Lions are going to the NFC Championship. Yes, you read that right.
Those Lions are one win away from a Super Bowl appearance. They’re in this position because they took care of business against the Buccaneers, making every play they needed to. The offense put up 31 points, keeping its foot on the gas pedal and capitalizing in the red zone. The defense kept the Lions in this one until the offense was ready, and made the game-sealing play via a Barnes interception. That was a complete win, in the playoffs, for this Lions team. Detroit advances.
The Lions will face their biggest test yet, traveling to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. It won’t be easy going against Christian McCaffrey and the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but these Lions believe they can play anywhere, against anyone, and win. We’ll see what they have in store next week. — Colton Pouncy, Lions beat writer
Lions are winning playoff games and changing perceptions of what they can accomplish
Tampa Bay’s valiant fight comes up short
Tampa Bay put up a valiant fight, but in the fourth quarter just couldn’t come up with the stops needed to overtake the Lions. And then the Detroit defense stepped up big with the interception to seal the game. Detroit was just the better team. This game — especially in the second half — felt like a prize fight, but the Lions were the slightly more skilled and slightly more talented fighter and prevailed.
This one will sting for a while for Mayfield, but he delivered some very clutch plays under pressure for the Bucs and gave them a chance until that final possession. — Mike Jones, national NFL writer
(Photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)