Lions put league on notice as defense stands out in season-opening win over Chiefs

Now do you believe the Detroit Lions are for real?

Going into Arrowhead against the defending Super Bowl champions, even down Travis Kelce, even down Chris Jones, virtually no one gave Detroit a legitimate chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. KC head coach Andy Reid sure didn’t want to give Detroit a chance when he elected to go for it on fourth and 25 with over two minutes left to play in the game. He has Patrick Mahomes, after all.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn responded by bringing pressure, anyway.

And wouldn’t you know it? Detroit did it. It was somehow a perfectly Dan Campbell-type win, while the team looked completely different from last year’s Lions

Last year, the offense scored at will. Quarterback Jared Goff and Co. averaged 35 points a game through the first four games. The problem is their defense let up even more.

That couldn’t have been further from what happened Thursday night. The defense held the Chiefs to 20 points total. More than that, they came through in crucial moments that bailed the offense out on more than one occasion. The Lions only scored 21 points, and only 14 of those came from the offense itself.

[Vitali: NFL young talent rankings: No. 13 Lions facing high expectations that will only grow]

Even when Detroit turned it over after the ball was punched out of wide receiver Marvin Jones’ hands in the second quarter, the Lions didn’t lose their cool. The defense turned around and forced a Kansas City punt. 

At the end of the game, after the offense pulled ahead by one solitary point, the defense saved their best for last. Chiefs left tackle Donovan Smith got called for holding on first down, which negated a first-down completion thrown by Mahomes. Instead of moving the chains, it became first and 20. Then it was fourth and 20. Where most teams would get into some sort of prevent defense formation, Glenn crowded the line. He brought six rushers and right tackle Jawaan Taylor committed a false start.

Pressure paid off.

That was the calling card of the defense all night. Despite how well Mahomes has historically done against the blitz, he was without his favorite target in Kelce and it showed. The Chiefs suffered multiple drops at the hands of their receivers. It seems even Superman has his limits.

So the Lions took advantage. Kansas City was just 5-of-14 on third down, a measly 35.7% conversion rate. They were 0-for-1 on fourth down. And while sacks proved elusive still, the Lions made their presence felt. They had seven quarterback hits on the night. Second-year player Aidan Hutchinson was responsible for three himself. Hutchinson was moving all over the line, rushing from all different alignments.

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Not wanting to be left out, the secondary got in on the fun, determined to get across that they were no longer an issue. Free agent acquisition CJ Gardner-Johnson came as advertised. He had two pass breakups and got in on some hits for good measure. 

But perhaps the best indication that the Lions’ secondary has turned over a new leaf was what they were able to get out of rookie Brian Branch. Mahomes fired a near-perfect pass to Kadarius Toney. Instead, it bounced off Toney’s hands and… right into the arms of Branch, who then took the ball to the house. That play ignited the defense, who then forced a punt on the ensuing Chiefs’ possession. They surrendered just two field goals for the remainder of the game.

One thing is for certain: these aren’t the Lions of old. They aren’t even the Lions from last season. And while it seems that Detroit’s offense is getting off to a slower start this time around, they finally have a defense that can sustain them.

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