Lions hoping to make more history, seeking first road playoff win since 1957
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions have taken strides toward leaving their woeful history behind, pulling within a win of their first Super Bowl appearance.
The next step will be challenging.
Detroit plays at San Francisco on Sunday in the NFC championship game, aiming for the franchise's first road playoff win since 1957, when it beat the 49ers and went on to win the NFL title.
“We're just getting over mountains right now,” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said after helping the Lions beat Tampa Bay to advance. “It’s just one mountain after another.”
The next one looms large.
The top-seeded 49ers are favored to win by a touchdown, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, in their third straight NFC title game. Detroit will be playing in the game for the first time in 32 years and the second time in franchise history.
The Lions, though, do not lack confidence after beating the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game and the Buccaneers in the divisional round to give them 22 wins in 29 games starting with their season-ending surge in 2022.
“I don’t want to say this arrogantly, but we expected to win the first game, we expected to win this game,” Jared Goff said after throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. “We get to go to a game we expected to be in against a really good team at their place, and we’re going to come into it expecting to win.
“It’ll be a tough game, but it'll be fun.”
Detroit's win over the Rams ended an NFL-record, nine-game postseason losing streak that spanned 32 years. The victory over the Bucs gave the franchise two playoff wins for the first time since its championship season six-plus decades ago.
Like much of the Lions' past, their NFC championship game experience isn't positive.
With Hall of Fame running Barry Sanders, Detroit went to Washington and lost 41-10 on Jan. 12, 1992.
The Lions are averaging nearly four touchdowns a game in the playoffs, moving the ball through the air and on the ground as they did with one of the league's top offenses in the regular season.
Goff is completing 74% of his passes and hasn't turned the ball over in the playoffs.
Sam LaPorta had nine receptions against the Bucs, setting an NFL record for a rookie tight end, and his 12 catches rank No. 1 among first-year players at the position in a postseason.
Jahmyr Gibbs, who had a tiebreaking 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, joined Marcus Allen (1982) and Joseph Addai (2006) as the NFL rookies with at least 80 yards rushing and receiving along with two scores in a postseason.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Detroit had little depth at tight end behind LaPorta, which led to the team agreeing Monday to sign three-time Pro Bowl pick Zach Ertz, according to a person familiar with the deal. Ertz caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in Philadelphia's Super Bowl win over New England six years ago and set a record for catches by a tight end in a season with 116 in 2018.
Ertz was traded to Arizona during the 2021 season and asked for his release from the Cardinals earlier this season.
Tight end Brock Wright was knocked out of the Bucs game with a forearm injury, a week after James Mitchell went on injured reserve. As of Monday, that left only Anthony Firkser in the tight end room with LaPorta.
Hutchinson has at least one sack in four straight games, and a total of eight during the sensational span, and at least three quarterback hits in five straight.
Detroit's victory formation needs some work.
Goff took a knee too early on his last snap, with 14 seconds on the play clock and 37 seconds left in the game.
“We didn’t handle that well on our end,” Lions coach Dan Campbell acknowledged.
Tampa Bay could have called a timeout, forcing the Lions to run another play, but coach Todd Bowles chose not to use it.
“No sense in prolonging the obvious,” Bowles said after the game.
Campbell said it “doesn't look good” for Wright or guard Jonah Jackson (knee) to play at San Francisco.
Return specialist Kalif Raymond has missed two straight games with a knee injury.
14 — The Lions' franchise-record win total this season, including the playoffs.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.
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