NFL Nation: Golden Tate

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:20
PM ET
video
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

What it means: This was always going to be a struggle and perhaps the Lions' toughest game of the season. However, there should be legitimate concern with Detroit's offense right now. The Lions have gone two straight games without a touchdown and despite shrinking the play-calling sheet in order to help find offensive rhythm and consistency, the Lions gained 335 yards -- right around their 332.3 yard per game average -- but once again appeared largely inconsistent.

More on this below, but perhaps a bigger concern was the return of the drops for the Lions -- an issue in 2013 but so far not a problem this season. Detroit had at least six drops against the Patriots, including three potential touchdowns.

Defensively, the Lions weren't much better. While the Patriots abandoned the run early, Tom Brady was able to carve through Detroit's defense, completing 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was also not sacked -- the second straight game the Lions have been unable to sack an opposing quarterback.

Stock watch: Rising – Golden Tate. He went over 1,000 yards for the season and once again had a strong game with four catches for 97 yards a week after the Lions only threw two passes to him. He also was one of the few Detroit receivers to not drop a pass -- an accomplishment on a day where the Lions dropped three potential touchdown receptions. Falling – Pass-catchers. Eric Ebron dropped Matthew Stafford's best throw of the day -- a touch pass in stride that hit Ebron in the hands before he dropped it. There were also drops in the end zone by Joseph Fauria, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross. Calvin Johnson had a couple of drops as well. But those three dropped touchdowns made a massive difference in the game.

Back to second: With Green Bay knocking off Minnesota, 24-21, the Lions are officially out of first place in the NFC North. The Packers are 8-3 and the Lions are 7-4. This puts Detroit in a crowded wild-card race with Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. This is realistically three teams for two spots -- one of the Eagles or Cowboys will win the NFC East -- and something that is going to be watched the rest of the season.

Game ball: Once again, Tate was one of the few bright spots on the Lions and the only one offensively for the team. He gave the Lions more than a third of their total offense Sunday -- 97 yards receiving, 13 yards rushing -- and is the only player on Detroit able to show any offensive creativity right now. He's been the only consistent thing on the Lions' inconsistent offense this season.

What's next: The Lions head home for a short week before facing division rival Chicago on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving game.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Detroit Lions have appeared fairly healthy all week leading into their game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Now, though, there is going to be at least one question mark at Gillette Stadium.

Running back Reggie Bush, who has practiced on a limited basis all week with that lingering ankle injury, is officially questionable .

If Bush doesn't play, Detroit will once again go with heavy usage for Joique Bell along with increased work for Theo Riddick. It would probably be a similar plan to last Sunday against Arizona, when Bell rushed for 85 yards.

Only two players are completely out for Detroit: right guard Larry Warford and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Jason Jones, who told Detroit reporters on Friday his personal absence was dealing with his sick child in Tennessee, returned to practice Friday and is probable. Golden Tate appeared on the injury report for the first time this week -- limited in practice with a hip injury. He is probable for Sunday, though.

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

This could easily be another treatise about the woes of the Lions' offense and how the team has little to no shot against the New England Patriots on Sunday if it doesn't find some remedy to its inability to run or pass with any consistency. And all of that would be true.

But let's focus on one area here. Matthew Stafford has long been a quarterback who is often at his best -- and sometimes, his worst -- when he ends up having to react to plays instead of making his reads, having time in the pocket and then throwing. When he's put on the run, under pressure, Stafford makes the big plays, and it's often when he takes his bigger chances downfield.

That's one area where Stafford has done less this season. In 2013, Stafford threw the ball downfield 15 yards or more an average of 8.6 times a game. This season, he's down to 6.9 times a game. In 2014, Stafford has taken 10 or more deep shots in a game only once -- against Atlanta. Last season, he did so six times. Stafford is on pace for his fewest deep throws since his abbreviated 2010 season. And he's completing only 37.7 percent of these passes, his lowest percentage since 2010.

It always appeared Stafford was more comfortable in these situations, though. And with receivers such as Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, those chances should be more plentiful, not less.

This week, it might also be where the Patriots could be vulnerable. Over the past two weeks, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck completed 14 of 31 passes on deep throws. While that might not seem like a big percentage, taking some of these chances early could open up the New England defense for some underneath work later in the game and put Stafford back into his comfort zone. It would also lend a level of unpredictability to what has turned into a very conservative Lions offense.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions never want to be without Calvin Johnson. Not for a play, a quarter, a game or, as they were during the first half of the 2014 season, three straight weeks.

There is an interesting byproduct here, though, especially considering quarterback Matthew Stafford was still working out the final pieces of Joe Lombardi's offense as he also had to play for the first time in his career without his top target for a good chunk of time.

With Johnson hobbled, it forced Stafford to rely on his secondary parts, including his now-1A receiver Golden Tate, to try and move the Detroit offense in any significant fashion. The Lions have struggled offensively, ranking No. 20 in yards per game, No. 15 in QBR and ninth in passing yards per game without his top target and myriad other players injured.

Now those players have returned, allowing Stafford to continue his rapport with Tate, Theo Riddick, Joique Bell and the rest while incorporating the receiver he has become so accustomed to having.

Stafford
Stafford
He said he is more comfortable with his receivers now than at any other point in his six-year NFL career. This could mean better decisions for Stafford, too, instead of trying to always find a way for Johnson to have the ball.

"Absolutely," Stafford said. "The more experience and the better everybody else plays, the less you feel like you have to get 81 the ball, but it's still conducive to playing good offense to get the best receiver on the planet the ball as much as you can.

"So we'll continue to try and do that as well."

Playing without Johnson and others forced Stafford to grow. In the first half of the season, the Lions missed these players for at least one game: Johnson, running backs Riddick, Bell and Reggie Bush; tight ends Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle.

It left Stafford and Lombardi playing mix-and-match by the week depending who was definitely available, who might be available and who was definitely out of the lineup.

It made Stafford develop more patience with everything -- from offensive development to other players to his own game.

"Yeah, playing quarterback, it was an interesting time," Stafford said. "We had a lot of guys filling in spots. Meeting guys during the week and then starting and playing 40, 50 snaps. It was a challenge, not only for me, but for those guys coming in, our coaching staff building game plans and I'm proud of the way we handled it, the way we played.

"Were there plays out there that we missed? Absolutely, we wish we had back, no question. But to come out there and fight and get to 6-2 with as many guys down as we had, it was a positive sign."

The Lions are hoping that positive sign turns into a more permanent uptick for an offense that is struggling. When Johnson returns, it forces teams to plan differently for the Lions than with Johnson out.

They can no longer focus either on stopping Bush, Bell and Riddick or double-teaming Tate as often as possible. Johnson's return should allow for one or more of those options to have single coverage or get completely lost in space.

If Stafford's newfound patience and confidence in those non-Johnson players holds up, it could mean bigger plays more often for a Detroit offense in need of them.

"He has an effect on the entire unit defensively in terms of your plans," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "It's whether or not you feel comfortable leaving him in a one-on-one situation, whether you feel comfortable not rolling the coverage to him or not assigning an underneath cover guy.

"All of those things play a part because you can only deploy 11 guys a certain way and the minute you assign one or two to his area, that sometimes dictates what you do. I think he does make you think about a number of things that you may plan to do."

And this is exactly what the Lions have been hoping for all along this season. Let Stafford trust everyone. Make coordinators think and possibly overthink things. Then try to take advantage.
» AFC Report: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South | HOME

Matthew Stafford stood at the podium a continent from home last month, almost giddy.

The sixth-year Detroit Lions quarterback had completed the unthinkable a few moments earlier, leading the Lions to their second straight double-digit come-from-behind win against an NFC South team, this time a 22-21 win against the Falcons in London.

There Stafford stood, possibly happier than anyone in the United Kingdom at that moment. In the NFL, these types of comebacks don't happen. This isn't college and Stafford is no longer at Georgia. Yet there he was, running the offense for the inexplicable, improbable, unbelievable Detroit Lions. They are 6-2 and controlling their own playoff future for the second straight season after a first half of a season that has included big comebacks and some of the worst kicking performances in recent NFL history.

MVP: The defensive line. This was a tough call because of the sustained strong play of receiver Golden Tate, who has often been the sole reason the Lions were able to have offensive success. But the Detroit defense has been in the top 10 in almost every category for the majority of the season, and all of that begins with the 10 men on the defensive line. Ndamukong Suh is the No. 5 defensive tackle in the game, according to Pro Football Focus, and Nick Fairley, before his knee injury, was ranked 12th by PFF. Why this unit earns the MVP award, though, is because of its role players. George Johnson was an off-the-street find who has given the Lions another pass-rusher besides Ezekiel Ansah at end. Jason Jones is playing back to form and Darryl Tapp is showing versatility against the run and pass. The Lions don't have anywhere close to the top-rated defense in the league if not for the front four.

Biggest disappointment: Nate Freese and Alex Henery. The Lions' first and second kickers this season were abysmal. Freese turned into a wasted draft pick who probably should not have been kept in training camp over Giorgio Tavecchio. Freese was cut after an inconsistent preseason and three weeks of missed kicks. The Lions replaced him with Henery, who on paper looked to be a decent option. However, he missed three field-goal attempts against Buffalo, including a potential game-winner, and he was gone the next day, replaced by Matt Prater. That the Lions couldn't figure out their kicking situation until Week 6 reflects on the coaches and front office.

Best moment: The last four minutes against New Orleans. The first of two improbable comebacks in the first half of the season, the way Detroit came back from 13 points down against New Orleans in the final four minutes -- a long Tate run-after-catch for a touchdown, an interception by Glover Quin and then a Stafford touchdown pass to Corey Fuller -- encapsulated what the Lions are trying to be this season. It showed Detroit's explosiveness on offense and defense, and after the season it could be one of those wins that is viewed as a turning point.

Worst moment: Calvin Johnson's ankle injuries. The first, against Green Bay, didn't look too bad. Johnson hobbled off the field a little bit but returned later in the game. What followed, though, ended the effectiveness of the top receiver in the NFL for the first half of the season. Johnson was hobbled against the Jets and played against Buffalo, when he aggravated the ankle on his only catch of the day. He hasn't played since, and it has not been good for the Detroit offense or for Johnson, who has dealt with finger, knee and ankle injuries the past two seasons.

Key to the second half: Improved offensive line play. Stafford was sacked 24 times in the first half of the season -- one more time than all of last season. Though the protection has improved the past three weeks, including no sacks allowed against Atlanta, the Lions need to protect him better for there to be sustained success. They also need to figure out a way to block for the run more effectively. The Lions have one of the two worst rushing offenses in the league a season after running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell were considered one of the best tandems in the NFL. Games at New England, Chicago and Green Bay are going to be much tougher for Detroit to win in winter if it can't find its run game.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
12:39
PM ET
video
LONDON -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London.

What it means: The Lions spent the first month of the season trying to find a field goal kicker. Now it appears they have one. Matt Prater made a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Lions their second come-from-behind win in as many weeks -- this after Prater missed a 43-yard attempt that was waived off because of a delay of game penalty. The Lions have found a way to win games they really have had no business of winning and have put themselves in a good position at the halfway point of the season. Prater’s field goal capped a 21-point second-half comeback for Detroit.

Stock watch: Rising -- Golden Tate. The receiver once again had a massive game with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. He has become a star for the Lions over the past month with his fourth 100-yard game in the last five contests. Theo Riddick is also rising. With Reggie Bush out, Riddick once again became a playmaker with three carries for five yards and eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. He might be finding a role in Detroit’s offense even when Bush returns.

Falling -- health. The injuries are starting to become an issue for Detroit. The Lions lost Nick Fairley on Sunday and were already without Calvin Johnson, Bush, three tight ends and their starting right tackle. Tough to win games that way. Yet the Lions did.

Defensive line depth is dwindling: C.J. Mosley was suspended, and Fairley injured his knee in the first half. Atlanta then ran right at the middle of the Detroit defensive front and rookie Caraun Reid. Mosley’s suspension really hurt the Lions’ depth, to the point they had to put the undersized Darryl Tapp in at defensive tackle for some plays during the second half.

Game ball: Tate. He once again turned in a big performance and helped the Lions pull out another come-from-behind win in the second half. If Detroit ever gets to full health, it could have one of the most potent offenses in the league. But right now, Tate is the reason the Lions are 6-2 heading into the bye.

What’s next: The Lions are off for a week -- something Detroit needs desperately considering all its injuries -- before facing Miami at home in Week 10.
GUILDFORD, Surrey, England – Calvin Johnson might slowly be making progress toward his return to the field.

While the Detroit Lions wide receiver wouldn’t say he is healthy and wouldn’t say he is going to play when the Lions face Atlanta at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, he did say he has done “just a little bit” of work on the field -- a sign of progress on his injured right ankle.

“I’m still working, working to get on the field each and every week,” Johnson said at a Play60 event soon after the team arrived in Europe. “If I’m good enough to play, I’m going to play. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Johnson
Johnson has missed the past two games with the injury and has not been fully healthy since Week 3, when he injured the ankle against Green Bay. He practiced just on Fridays but played during Weeks 4 and 5 before aggravating the injury against Buffalo.

He hasn’t practiced or played since.

Johnson said he’s feeling good. As a soccer fan, he also likely would enjoy playing his version of football in Wembley Stadium if he is healthy enough.

“It’d be a great experience,” Johnson said. “Looking forward to it.”

One of the byproducts of Johnson’s injury has been Matthew Stafford gaining trust in other receivers beyond Golden Tate. That includes Corey Fuller, who caught the game-winner Sunday against New Orleans, and Jeremy Ross, who has been part of the passing plan each week.

In Johnson’s absence, Tate has turned into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Tate is third in the NFL in receptions (48), sixth in receiving yards (649) and first in yards after catch (344). He has been a big reason why Stafford has been able to trust receivers and why the Lions are 5-2.

“I think we’ve done that. Each of us has stepped up in our own way and once we get [Johnson] back, the chemistry is just going to grow between all of us, you know,” Tate said. “I think Matt trusts that he doesn’t have to go to 81 all the time and he can rely on those guys to make some plays and help them out and we’re just excited about that.

“He’s no question one of the best players in the league and we’re going to take off and we’re just going to continue to work hard.”
DETROIT -- Earlier this month, Corey Fuller insisted he could do more. He was playing behind Calvin Johnson then, barely the target of any of Matthew Stafford’s attention and resigned to running the deep go routes and posts he had been assigned.

His job then was to pull a defender down the field so Stafford could find Golden Tate and others on shorter routes.

[+] EnlargeCorey Fuller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCorey Fuller's first career touchdown catch was a meaningful one for Detroit on Sunday.
Then Johnson’s high ankle sprain became more of an issue and Fuller was put into a much larger, more diverse role. The deeper routes he had to run turned into a fuller route tree, with slants and hitches and the full gamut of plays he learned.

He insisted, at some point, he would do more. That more came Sunday afternoon, with the Detroit Lions five yards from a come-from-behind win over the Saints.

Fuller, lined up on the right side, ran toward the back of the end zone. Initially, rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste hung with Fuller as Tate was doubled by the Saints. Then, Jean-Baptiste, playing the first defensive snaps of his career Sunday, let him go as Fuller rounded his route toward the middle of the end zone, tucked in the back.

“He’s 1A,” Stafford said. “Golden was in there, too, but they doubled Golden. He had done such a great job all game, they put a little double-team down there, a little bracket. Corey had to go outside, beat a corner and he was just trailing on the baseline, saw the double team on Golden and put a ball where I thought Corey could go up and get it and get both feet down.”

Stafford threw the ball as Fuller headed toward the middle of the field. He jumped up, extended his arms and caught the ball. Then he controlled his body enough to make sure both feet landed in bounds before he fell out of the end zone for the game-winning 5-yard touchdown.

“I know I don’t get called much,” Fuller said. “I’m just here to help any way I can. Matt threw a great ball, the line blocked perfectly and all I had to do was come down with it. I had to do the easy job.”

It was a job, though, that he had never had to do before.

It was the first touchdown of Fuller’s career and only his ninth career NFL catch. It was the second week in a row Fuller had five targets and his three catches tied a career high. His 44 yards were the second-best numbers of his career.

As he said, he knew he could do more. He just had to wait for it.

“He’s put in so much work in the past year to get where he’s at,” Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “He deserved that.

“He deserved every bit of that.”
video

DETROIT -- On Saturday evenings, during the team’s final meeting of the night before a game on Sunday, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell ends those sessions with the same message every time.

Above all else, win. No matter what.

It’s a simple message, really. But too often in the recent past for the Lions, it has been the opposite. This used to be a team that would give away fourth-quarter leads and hand victories to opponents. This was a team last season that held leads in the fourth quarter of almost every game in the second half of the season and found ways to lose time and time again.

This is part of why Caldwell is here, because of those collapses. So with four minutes left Sunday against the New Orleans Saints and the Lions needing two touchdowns to win and an offense struggling without Calvin Johnson, they needed Caldwell’s message to somehow resonate.

They needed a spark to resurrect an offense that was built to have many weapons to endure in the face of injuries, not to collapse when Johnson wasn’t in there.

“Just hard finding good rhythm,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “These defenses are putting together great game plans as well, so it’s tough to kind of get through that sometimes.”

The Lions are hoping the double-digit deficit turned 24-23 win over the Saints in the last 3 minutes, 52 seconds is the ignition for the rest of the season.

Facing third-and-14, Matthew Stafford threw the ball up to his hot receiver, Golden Tate. And 73 yards later -- 65 of them from Tate after the catch -- a Lions offense that gained 187 yards through three quarters had a touchdown, a belief and that offensive spark.

“That play he made on that long touchdown is as good a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stafford said. “Just to catch it at a standstill, basically I just threw him a ball up. He was hot. He was calling for it. Wanted it.

“I gave him a chance on a ball and he came back, caught it and he did the rest. It was pretty impressive.”

The Lions' defense saw that and started pressuring Drew Brees even more on the chances it could get. On a third-and-9, the offensive spark turned into a defensive play. George Johnson pressured his man from the side and forced Brees off rhythm. His pass to Marques Colston ended up intercepted by Detroit safety Glover Quin.

Johnson said the Lions knew at some point Brees was going to have to hold the ball a split-second longer to make a play. It led to the pressure and the pick.

And Caldwell’s message of believing took hold even more: Above all else, win.

With 3:10 left and 14 yards and an extra point between a loss and an improbable victory, the Lions ran four times, passed twice and received one pass interference call. Then, five yards from the end zone on third down with 1:48 left, Stafford saw Tate bracketed by the Saints and Corey Fuller breaking toward the middle of the end zone.

Fuller started in Johnson’s place Sunday, and in the biggest spot of his career Fuller made a play reminiscent of his mentor. He leaped, controlled his body and got both of his feet down. It was the definition of a role player with a massive play.

“It was a toe-touch,” Pettigrew said. “That’s real Calvinish. I’m not taking anything away from him, but that was pretty good. That’s pretty good.”

That is an offensive spark completed for a team in desperate need of one -- for one day and for the rest of the season.

“Games in this league are crazy,” Caldwell said. “You don’t know exactly how they are going to turn out.”

Down 13 with under four minutes left and no Calvin Johnson -- no, no one could have seen this coming at all. Except maybe Caldwell with his message: Above all else, win.

Chad Greenway inactive for Vikings

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
11:55
AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Chad Greenway will miss his third consecutive game Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings. The linebacker, who was listed as doubtful for the game with broken ribs, is among the team's seven inactives for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

That means Gerald Hodges will start for the third week in a row at weakside linebacker. Hodges has played well in spots since Greenway got hurt against New Orleans, and he, along with the rest of the Vikings' defense, could catch a break Sunday with both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush out for the Lions.

Detroit listed the receiver and running back as inactive for Sunday's game, and though Golden Tate has played well as the Lions' No. 2 receiver, the Vikings certainly have fewer contingencies to worry about as they try to slow down the Lions' offense and get to 3-3 on Sunday.

Here is the full list of the Vikings' inactives:
DETROIT – The first one clanged off the upright. The second one didn’t have a chance. The third finished wide left.

This was Alex Henery’s day Sunday as Detroit -- which dropped to an NFL-worst 4-of-12 on field goals -- lost 17-14 to the Buffalo Bills.

And it didn't take long for Henery's job security to become a topic on Twitter. Free agent kicker Jay Feely, who played at the University of Michigan and was cut by Arizona in August, tweeted Sunday evening that he is waiting for the Lions to call. He, along with Matt Prater, would be options if the Lions choose to release Henery.


Detroit led or was tied the entire game until Dan Carpenter’s decisive 58-yard field goal with four seconds left. That came after Henery missed a 50-yarder with 26 seconds remaining.

“It’s unfortunate. I know Henery feels extremely bad, but hopefully he turns that bad feeling into motivation to working hard and to find a way to make these kicks,” said wide receiver Golden Tate. “Because, to me, that’s one game, when we’re up the whole game and moving the ball the way we are, that’s one game that I think we need to win.

“I just hope that doesn’t come back and bite us later in the season.”

Henery
Tate and others offered support for Henery, but kicking has been an issue for the Lions since the preseason, when Nate Freese beat out Giorgio Tavecchio. Then Freese missed four field goals in three games and the Lions cut him for Henery, who has four misses in two games for the team’s 33.3 percentage.

The last time a team started the season this poorly in the kicking game five games into the season was 2009, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made only 2 of 6 field goals. Unlike the Lions, though, the Bucs were 0-5. The Bears were also 2 of 6 through five games in 2005 and were 2-3.

The Lions are 3-2.

Prater
Feely
Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said he couldn’t explain why the Lions have had their issues with field goals, other than performance. But it appears the coaching staff and front office whiffed twice this season with their kicking decisions.

Six of Detroit’s eight misses have been between 40 and 49 yards. Two have been from 50 yards or longer. Caldwell wouldn’t comment on Prater, who was released by Denver earlier this week, as a potential replacement if the team looks to replace Henery.

“This is the big leagues, plain and simple,” Caldwell said. “If I don’t do my job right, same thing will happen. All of us are called into question in that regard. We’ve got to perform.”

It has cost the Lions, especially with a defense playing well and an offense often driving at least into field goal territory.

“It’s definitely frustrating to leave points out there on the board when you move the ball like we did,” Tate said. “But even today, offensively, we can’t worry about, and we can’t we can’t go into games thinking, ‘All right, what’s the special teams going to be?’

“That’s not our job. That’s the coaching staff and we believe the coaching staff is going to put us in the best position to win and that’s that.”

Tate, in part, said he should have done more on his 55-yard reception that put the Lions in position for the game-winning field goal attempt. It capped a seven-catch, 134-yard day when both Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson missed portions of the game to injury.

But as well as the offense and defense have played this season, kicking has failed them.

“This is a performance-based league, plain and simple,” Caldwell said. “You’ve got to perform. So anyone that doesn’t, we take a look and see if we can improve that one way or another.

“That’s our obligation to our fans, our team, our organization.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dominic Raiola snapped the ball on the second-to-last play of the third quarter and in a matter of seconds, Golden Tate already had the thing.

Matthew Stafford threw him a quick route on the right side and Tate had the ball in space with a man to juke out of the way. He did and it was like so many of the other plays Tate made Sunday afternoon against the Jets.

A quick pass to Tate and then let him work, picking up yards upon yards after the catch. With Calvin Johnson hobbled with an ankle injury, it was up to Tate to become the Detroit Lions' No. 1 receiver in their 24-17 win over the New York Jets. Stafford targeted him 10 times and he caught eight of those passes for 116 yards, his fourth career 100-yard game.

It was a reminder that even when Johnson is not fully healthy, the Lions have another player who can play like a top receiver. And that second option has the elusiveness to turn those small plays into massive ones.

"That's huge," Johnson said. "Matt [Stafford] and myself talked about that after the game. That was big-time what Golden did today. That's what we brought him here for."

Consider this, too. For the first time in Johnson's career, the Lions have won a game when he was held to fewer than 20 yards receiving. Until Sunday, Detroit had been 0-6 in those games.

The one Tate play that stood out, though, was the quick hit and then his dash to the end zone that came up a couple yards short. The play helped seal the game for the Lions. It was part of a 90-yard drive that took momentum from New York and gave it back to Detroit.

"That says a lot about any team who can drive 90 yards late in the game like that," Tate said."It was a pretty warm day out there on the road, so it says a lot about us to go 90 and score right there. We were just clicking. We got in a rhythm and moved the ball."

Part of Tate's effectiveness Sunday came because of the Jets' decision to run zone. When Tate lined up in the slot, this sometimes left a linebacker with the task of dealing with Tate. Of course, he was doing more than that. Anything the Jets threw at Tate on Sunday, he was able to squirt out of.

"He beat two men. He beat loaded coverages," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He beat a lot of different things. The game plan was to stop Calvin Johnson. That was the No. 1 priority.

"We recognize Golden Tate is a good football player."

Tate was reliable, too. Entering Sunday, he had nine third down catches on 11 targets for 122 yards. On Sunday, he had two more third down catches -- two of the six third downs the Lions converted -- for 46 yards, including a 35-yard catch-and-run on the Lions' first drive that led to a field goal.

It is those little things Tate is able to do that makes him so dangerous for the Lions as the second option behind Johnson.

"He has great hands," Lions running back Reggie Bush said. "You guys saw it today. He's a huge playmaker for us. We've seen that throughout the season and you've seen that throughout his career.

"I'm glad he's on our team. That guy is a big spark for us."

Packers' Matthews ailing again

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
6:25
PM ET
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room Sunday after the Green Bay Packers' 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field:

Matthews
Matthews ailing again: Here's a new one for Clay Matthews -- the outside linebacker left the game with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. Aside from his broken thumb last year, the only other injuries Matthews has battled during his career have been to his hamstrings. Although Matthews remained on the sideline and appeared ready to go back into the game, he never did. "One of their little receivers tried to cut me, and I planted wrong, so I felt a little something down there," Matthews said. "It doesn't feel too bad. We'll see how it does moving forward. Can't really give you a timetable or anything along those lines because I've never done it before, but we'll kind of see how it goes." Matthews said he thought the receiver was Golden Tate.

Taking the blame: Coach Mike McCarthy admitted he was wrong to call the timeout with 17 seconds left in the second quarter, when the Lions had the ball at their own 25-yard line. Following the timeout, Matthew Stafford hit a 52-yard pass to Corey Fuller and put the Lions in position for a 41-yard field goal -- which they missed -- on the final play of the first half. McCarthy was hoping to get a stop and force a punt that might have set up a field goal chance for his own team. "That was a poor decision on my part -- the timeout at 17 seconds, there's too much risk in the decision," said McCarthy, who also admitted he erred on the Lions' offside penalty on their kickoff in the fourth quarter. When the Lions re-kicked, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick was called for holding, which forced the Packers to start at their own 10.

McCarthy's message: Asked what McCarthy said to the team after the game, a downtrodden Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said: "That's classified."

Lions vs. Packers preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
AM ET

It is a rivalry filled with dirtbags, scumbags, stomps and a winning streak going on longer than some NFL rookies have been alive. And that is just the past few decades.

Whenever the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions play each other, something ends up happening. So far, two of the major instigators of the recent vintage -- Packers lineman Josh Sitton and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- have remained quiet. That doesn’t mean something won't end up happening between now and game time.

So what happens during the game? NFL Nation Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down what you might see Sunday.

Rothstein: So, Rob, the Lions are going to have their third different starting slot corner in as many weeks on Sunday. How have the Packers done in three-wide sets this season and is that an exploitable area for Aaron Rodgers?

Demovsky: The three-receiver set is essentially their base offense. They use it primarily when they go no-huddle. But it really has not mattered much what the Packers are in personnel-wise, they’ve been looking to Jordy Nelson time and again. At some point, teams are surely going to force other receivers to beat them and that’s where Randall Cobb could come in. Although he caught a pair of touchdown passes last Sunday against the Jets, he had only 39 yards receiving. Given that he’s their slot receiver, perhaps this is a matchup the Packers will look to exploit this week.

I know it’s early in the season, but Nelson is putting up Calvin Johnson-type numbers so far. In fact, Nelson and Johnson come into this game ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in receiving yards. Nelson turned 29 this offseason and doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. Johnson will turn 29 at the end of this month. Is there any reason to think he’s slowing down at all?

Rothstein: Not at all. There was perhaps some concern over that during spring workouts, but he came into training camp looking like the receiver who has dominated the NFL over the past four seasons. The Lions brought in Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to help elongate Johnson's career as much as to help Matthew Stafford from taking nasty hits. So far, it has worked. Johnson is still being targeted a ton, but Tate is tied for 25th in the league in catches and 19th in yards with 150. Not bad for a true No. 2 receiver.

As long as Johnson can avoid injuries, he should still be in his prime for another couple of seasons. He takes extremely good care of himself and the Lions are doing their best to manage him. In the preseason they barely played him. Even during regular-season games, they are doing what they can to keep him fresh. That'll be one difference for Green Bay. There will be plays he's healthy on the sideline as the team tries to keep him as healthy and fresh as possible.

While the receivers will get the attention, the last time these two teams played, Josh Sitton called Ndamukong Suh and friends "dirtbags" and the Lions defensive line responded with their best game of the season. Is there still a similar level of dislike there or has that changed with the switch in the Detroit coaching staff?

Demovsky: Certainly the change in the coaches eased some of the tension between the Packers’ players and the Lions. Let’s face it, Sitton was pretty blunt in what he said about Jim Schwartz, so some of that is now gone. And Evan Dietrich-Smith, the player Suh stomped on, is no longer with the Packers. That said, there’s always going to be an emotional charge as long as Suh is on the other side. That will never go away as long as he’s there and Sitton and T.J. Lang are here. But both of those players are experienced enough to know now that this game is bigger than the individuals. And besides, the last time the Packers were at Ford Field, they took a beating, so if anything, the Packers might go back there humbled.

How much carryover, if any, will the Lions take from that 40-10 win over the Packers last Thanksgiving given that Rodgers did not even play in the game?

Rothstein: Not much, I don't think. So much has changed since then, from Rodgers now being healthy to the Packers switching defensive fronts to the Lions changing coaching staffs and offensive and defensive philosophies. I think it helps the Lions -- and Stafford -- that he finally beat Green Bay so there's potentially an underlying confidence thing there, but not a ton to it. Detroit doesn't seem focused on last season at all. For instance, when I asked Suh about that game last year and the aforementioned dirtbags comment, he smiled and basically said that was last season and had nothing to do with this season.

One of the Detroit offensive linemen, Rob Sims, mentioned the defensive line looks a lot different this year both in size and personnel. How much has the defense really shifted and how much 3-4 might the Packers still run, if any?

Demovsky: It’s like someone took Dom Capers’ old playbook away from him given how much 4-3 he’s running. It’s the first time he has done that since he came to Green Bay in 2009. What’s more, when he’s playing a four-man line, he’s using Clay Matthews off the line of scrimmage almost like an inside linebacker. They’re also much smaller across the front without those big three defensive tackles they had last season. It’s a completely different look, and it remains to be seen whether the change has been for the good. So far, they have struggled to stop the run, allowing 176.5 yards per game, which ranks 31st in the NFL.

The Packers have not been able to run the ball at all up the middle this season, and it looks like it might not get any easier this week. Why has the Lions' run defense been so effective?

Rothstein: It starts with that familiar guy from earlier, Ndamukong Suh. While teams still like to double him as much as possible, he is so difficult to deal with when an offensive line is trying to run block. Plus, the Lions have become much more aggressive this season with sending their linebackers, so rush lanes up the middle that used to be available in the Wide 9 defensive front are no longer an option for opposing teams.

But it starts with Suh and then linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Those three players are going to make it difficult for any team Detroit faces to run up the middle. Here’s what you need to know there. The Giants and Panthers tried 34 rushes either up the middle or behind guards the first two weeks of the season. They’ve gotten pretty much nowhere, gaining only 69 yards. It’s a strength for Detroit, without a doubt.

video
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When the Detroit Lions signed Golden Tate as their biggest free-agent acquisition in March, they did so with the plan he would open up the entire offense. He would become a sticky target for Matthew Stafford and deflect attention away from Calvin Johnson as a pure No. 2 receiver.

Through a game and a quarter, this worked, as Tate was targeted five times in the first quarter against Carolina on Sunday, catching four passes for 51 yards. Then, for the first time this season, a team took away Tate and helped turn the game.

Tate
Tate
Stafford targeted Tate only three more times the entire game and he caught only one more pass, finishing with five grabs for 57 yards. It isn't a bad stat line, but it also showed what could happen when a team eliminates him from the plan.

"They just paid more attention to me," Tate said. "For the most part, they did a good job of keeping me in front of them, not letting me behind the defense. That's what I noticed the most."

The Panthers didn't exactly shift their coverage to eliminate Tate, but they started to pick up on things they saw in their film study during the week. Based on where Tate was lined up in Detroit's offense, the Panthers predicted the route he would run or the area of the field he would be aiming to end up in.

Carolina knew there was a chance Tate and the Lions could adjust, but more often than not, they said they were right.

"More or less," Carolina safety Thomas DeCoud said. "This early in the season, there aren't going to be too many wrinkles. They are going to kind of stick to what they were doing. There were a few tells we were able to key in on."

Johnson said Carolina "mixed up their coverages pretty well." Stafford said it was "the way the reads go" as to why Tate was open in the first quarter and disappeared for the rest of the game.

None of the Panthers were willing to give up the tells they saw or the true specifics of what they did to eliminate Tate, but in doing so, they also turned the Lions' offense into more of a 2013 version of itself than the balanced 2014 version the Lions had been practicing toward.

The 2013 version meant a bunch of tosses to Johnson, who was targeted 13 times, catching only six passes. Included in that was a very 2013-like interception by Stafford, where he tossed the ball downfield to Johnson in double coverage, leading to a tipped ball and then the turnover.

Eventually, Carolina saw the benefit of what it was doing. It made the Lions dependent on Johnson, which is an all-too-familiar issue for Detroit. It wasn't necessarily the Panthers' strategy entering the game, but it is what happened.

"No question," cornerback Antoine Cason said. "That's their guy. That's what we as a defense have to do is continue to take things away from what they want and force it to be one-dimensional."

This is exactly what Detroit wanted to escape from -- and for a quarter it did. Then it returned to a past the Lions are trying to distance themselves from.

"When you can take away the other reads and guys who can hurt you on offense, it does kind of make you one-dimensional," DeCoud said. "And then they are going to try and feed their big receiver, their big target and now we can key in on that and be ready."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 11/20
Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24
WEEKLY LEADERS