The Detroit Lions are headed to their first NFC Championship game since 1991 after a dramatic 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. In an instant classic playoff matchup, the Lions overcame an early deficit and held off a fierce Bucs comeback attempt in the fourth quarter to advance to the conference title game.
Lead Up to the Game
Coming into the matchup as underdogs at home, the Lions knew they faced an uphill battle against 7-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the Bucs.
“This is one of the all-time greats,” said Lions coach Dan Campbell pregame. “This is going to be the biggest challenge we’ve ever had so far.”
Detroit was seeking their first playoff win since 1991, having lost their last nine postseason appearances over the past three decades. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was looking to return to the NFC Championship for the second time in three seasons.
This was the first ever playoff meeting between the longtime NFC foes. The Lions entered the game with a perfect 6-0 all-time record against the Bucs in postseason play.
First Half Recap
The Buccaneers offense struck early, with Brady engineering back-to-back touchdown drives to open the game. Meanwhile, the Lions offense sputtered out of the gates, punting on their first three drives as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 14-0 advantage.
However, Detroit finally broke through late in the second quarter, as running back D’Andre Swift burst free for a 22-yard touchdown run to get the Lions on the board. Still, Tampa Bay took a 17-7 lead into halftime.
First Half Stats
|Time of Possession
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brady was surgical in the first half, completing 15 of 18 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs mostly kept dynamic Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown under wraps, holding him to just 2 catches for 18 yards before the break.
Second Half Heroics
The Lions came bursting out the locker room after halftime, forcing a quick three-and-out and then driving 67 yards for their second touchdown of the day. Quarterback Jared Goff hit receiver DJ Chark for a critical 4th down conversion, before punching it in himself on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line.
Still trailing by 3 points, Campbell decided to roll the dice on 4th-and-1 from their own 28-yard line late in the third quarter. The gamble paid off, as the Lions converted and continued on a 72-yard touchdown drive capped by Jamaal Williams’ short TD run.
“That really was the turning point,” said Campbell. “If we don’t convert there, this game probably goes a different way.”
For the first time all day, the Lions had grabbed a 21-17 advantage heading into the final quarter.
Wild Fourth Quarter and Finish
With only eight minutes remaining, Brady delivered when it mattered most: finding Mike Evans in the end zone to regain the lead 23-21.
Facing defeat, the Lions responded with a critical 8 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a swift Jared Goff touchdown pass to receiver Josh Reynolds. Crucially, Detroit elected to go for two to make it a 31-23 game with just over three minutes left.
The Buccaneers took over looking to force overtime, but the Lions defense held strong. Tampa Bay turned it over on downs in Detroit territory, allowing the Lions to celebrate an incredible comeback victory.
Final Game Stats
|| Total Yards | Turnovers | First Downs
| Detroit Lions | 424 | 1 | 26
| Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 389 | 1 | 22
St. Brown rebounded in the second half to finish with 7 catches for 114 yards, while Goff threw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns. Swift and Williams combined for 97 yards rushing and 2 scores.
Looking Ahead to the NFC Championship
Next Sunday, the Lions will take on the San Francisco 49ers with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The 49ers dominated the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 in the other NFC Divisional game.
This sets up just the second ever playoff meeting between the NFC North champion Lions and NFC West champion 49ers, decades after their clash in the 1993 NFC Championship game. The winner books their ticket to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on February 11th.
For the Lions, already achieving their biggest postseason victory in over 30 years, the opportunity ahead brings even greater thrills. A franchise that had languished as one of the least successful in the NFL over the past decade now stands one game away from the sport’s biggest stage.
“We’re not just happy to be here,” said Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. “We’re gunning for that Super Bowl.”
After slaying Brady’s Buccaneers, confidence is sky high in Detroit. But they’ll have to take down another formidable foe in the 49ers to keep their Cinderella postseason run alive for one more Sunday.
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