Lions top Bucs, advance to NFC Championship
DETROIT (AP) — Jared Goff threw two touchdown passes and the Detroit Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 in a divisional-round playoff game on Sunday, lifting the long-suffering franchise into the NFC championship for the first time in 32 years and just the second time in franchise history.
The Lions (14-5) won two playoff games in a season for the first time since 1957, the last year they won the NFL title. They will play at San Francisco, the NFC's top seed, next Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl — a game they have never played in.
“I envisioned that we would have a chance to compete with the big boys, and that’s where we’re at,” Detroit coach Dan Campbell said.
Jahmyr Gibbs ran through a huge hole for a tiebreaking, 31-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Goff made it a two-TD lead when he connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 9-yard score with 6:22 left.
Baker Mayfield threw three TD passes for Tampa Bay (10-9), including a 16-yard toss to Mike Evans that got the Bucs within one score with 4:37 left. Detroit couldn't run out the clock on offense, giving Tampa Bay one last chance, but Mayfield's pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker Derrick Barnes, the QB's second pick of the day.
"Our defense stepped up there at the end. I thought our defense played a hell of a game all night and got the ball back there to finish it,” Goff said.
The Lions kneeled to run out the clock as their fans stood, screamed and twirled white towels.
“They’re the best. Look around right now. They’re not going to leave here for quite some time,” Goff said. “And this is our last one in front of them and they were special tonight as they were last week. But they deserve it. They deserve this. They deserve to enjoy this and hope to give them a lot more moving forward.”
Goff finished 30 of 43 for 287 yards and directed an efficient second-half offense for the Lions, who had long touchdown drives on three consecutive possessions. St. Brown had eight catches for 77 yards, and his TD catch capped a masterful 10-play, 89-yard drive.
Gibbs, an electric rookie Tampa Bay didn’t have to face when it lost to Detroit in the regular season, had 74 yards rushing on nine carries and four receptions for 40 yards.
Mayfield was 26 of 41 for 349 yards. His early pick went off Mike Evans' hands, and his late one was an ill-advised throw. Evans had eight receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Rachaad White had 55 yards rushing on nine carries, a total coach Todd Bowles may lament wasn’t higher, and four catches for 36 yards.
“Anything short of the Super Bowl is a disappointment,” Bowles said.
The Lions, and their desperate-for-a-winner fans, hope their second appearance in the NFC title game works out better than the first when Washington routed them 41-10 on Jan. 12, 1992.
Detroit and Tampa Bay traded field goals and touchdowns to enter the fourth quarter in a 17-all tie.
The Lions went ahead for a third time with 3:48 left in the third quarter, when Campbell went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and Craig Reynolds ran up the middle for a score that ended a 10-play, 64-yard drive.
Mayfield and the Bucs bounced back again with the crafty quarterback, who resurrected his career this season, avoiding sacks before connecting with White on a 12-yard pass to make it 17-all late in the third.
Gibbs started left and cut back to the right on his tiebreaking touchdown run.
The Lions were fortunate to score first.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson picked off Mayfield’s pass that went through Evans’ hands to end Tampa Bay’s first drive. Goff almost gave it back, underthrowing a pass into the end zone that defensive back Jamel Dean dropped, and two snaps later, Michael Badgley made a 23-yard field goal.
Goff converted a third down with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds early in the second quarter.
Mayfield used his feet and arm to pull the Bucs into a tie just before halftime. He ran for 14 yards — the longest run by a Tampa Bay quarterback in a playoff game — on a third down and then connected with Evans for 27- and 29-yard passes to set up a 2-yard TD pass to Cade Cotton.
Bucs: S Kaevon Merriweather (ankle) was injured in the third quarter and was carted off the field. Dean limped off the field in the fourth.
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