The Detroit Lions opened the 2012 season with a 27-23 win over the St. Louis Rams as quarterback Matthew Stafford marched his team down the field for a game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left on the clock. Sam Bradford led the Rams into Lions territory in the final five minutes, but the drives stalled out and forced rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein to bank one in off the left upright to give the Rams a 23-20 lead with two minutes remaining. Stafford, however, would cooly bring the Lions back down the field on a nine-play drive that ended with a short TD pass to Kevin Smith in the right flat. On what was likely their final play before a game-tying field goal attempt, Stafford avoided the rush and hit Smith of the right side for the score:
The two-win Rams were heavy underdogs against the Lions, but the defense forced three huge turnovers early and quarterback Bradford came on in the fourth quarter to push the Lions to the limit. The first turnover came when Janoris Jenkins picked off Stafford at the three-yard line as the Lions were going in for the score on their first possession of the game. Jenkins returned it out past the thirty and the Rams would go on a ten-play drive that ended with a Zuerlein field goal.
In the second quarter, Stafford would be picked off again in the red zone by Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who took it back thirty yards to give Bradford the ball just shy of midfield. The Rams offense would stall out again, but Zuerlein hit another field golf to cut the Lions lead to 7-6. Cortland Finnegan jumped in front of an out-route and intercept Stafford for the third time. The veteran corner left his man, easily picked it off, and then scampered down the left sideline for the pick-six and a 13-7 lead.
After a relatively uneventful third quarter, the teams traded touchdowns to knot things at 20-20 midway through the fourth quarter. Bradford and the Rams struck first, as the St. Louis quarterback hit Brandon Gibson with a pretty pass over the top for a 23-yard touchdown. The Lions immediately answered, however, as Stafford drove them 80 yards down the field in just five plays. He connected with tight end Brandon Pettigrew on passes of 18 and 24 yards. The second one was a perfect strike down the middle that put the Lions on the doorstep, and Kevin Smith took it in from five yards out on the next play.
Stafford would have to lead one more drive, and the fourth-year QB from Georgia was up to the task. He executed the two-minute drill to perfection, finishing off the Rams with the short TD pass to Smith.
Former No. 1 Picks Struggle
The game featured two quarterbacks who were the No. 1 overall pick in back-to-back drafts. But despite Stafford's numbers and Bradford's fourth-quarter play, neither had a spectacular game. Stafford's three interceptions in the first half kept the Rams, who couldn't move it on offense, in the game. Bradford picked things up in the fourth quarter, but the passing game for St. Louis was stagnant for much of the game.
Lions Passing Attack Back In Action
Stafford's second half redeemed the first-half struggle. He could be well on his way to another 5,000-yard season, starting 2012 with 355 yards on 32 of 48 attempts. Calvin Johnson, who proclaimed he was on the verge of a 2,000-yard season, finished the game with six catches for 111 yards.
The Rams will now host the Washington Redskins and dynamic rookie Robert Griffin III next week in their home opener. The Lions will go on the road for a Sunday night primetime showdown against the 49ers.