May 19, 2024

Jared Goff did a lot Sunday, but something glaring was missing from his game.

He didn’t get hit.

That’s right, unscathed. The Detroit Lions quarterback slipped out of SoFi Stadium after a 41-38 victory over the Chargers pretty much as fresh as he entered it.

“It’s happened a handful of times because of the tackles and interior we’ve got, but it’s very rare against a good D-line,” said Goff, who repeatedly eluded the grasp of Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and the rest. According to the stat line he was hit twice, although he does not recall any contact. “Yeah, I maybe fell to the ground once or twice — probably my own fault — but I don’t think I got hit once.”

For the Chargers, the hits keep coming. This marked the 13th loss by a field goal or less since the franchise drafted quarterback Justin Herbert in 2020, which ESPN Stats & Info notes is the most such losses in the NFL during that span.

The Lions are headed in the opposite direction. They’re 7-2 for the first time since 2014, firmly atop the NFC North, and are seeing even blown plays break their way.

For instance, they were supposed to have a different personnel package on the field with three minutes left in the second half. Recognizing that, Goff shrewdly checked out of a pass and instead handed the ball to David Montgomery, who darted up the middle, juked to his left and glided down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.

“It just shows you the ability we have as an offense,” Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “I mean, we can explode at any point.”

St. Brown is a big part of that. The former USC standout had 156 yards receiving Sunday, the fourth consecutive game he has recorded triple digits in that department. The last Lions receiver to do that? Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson in 2012.

The Lions, two years removed from a three-win season, are suddenly one of the best teams in the NFL, and one of the league’s hottest tickets. SoFi was filled to the brim Sunday with Detroit fans. One family came from Toledo, Ohio, about an hour from the Motor City, and said it was easier to make the trip to Los Angeles than trying to wrangle tickets to a Lions home game.

Goff, who began his NFL career in L.A., said Detroit home games are every bit as loud as that NFC championship game the Rams won at New Orleans.

 Lions place kicker Riley Patterson (36) launches a 41-yard, game-winning field goal to beat the Chargers 41-38.

Lions place kicker Riley Patterson (36) launches a 41-yard, game-winning field goal to beat the Chargers 41-38. Jared Goff led the deciding drive for the Lions, who never trailed.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“They were still cheering us on as we were walking off the field,” the quarterback said of the fans Sunday. “I’ve never played for a crowd like this. They travel, and they’re great at home obviously, but I’ve never experienced that.”

Both teams provided enough offensive highlights for a season’s worth of footage — much of them coming on fourth down.

The Chargers recorded three fourth-down plays — a fourth was wiped out by a penalty — and all three went for touchdowns.

The Lions converted four of five fourth downs, the most memorable of those coming on fourth and two with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining.

The score was tied at 38 and the Lions were at the Chargers’ 26, well within field-goal range. But instead of kicking, the Lions went for it and picked up six yards on a pass from Goff to rookie tight end Sam LaPorta.

“I wanted to finish with the ball in our hands,” Lions coach Dan Campbell explained. “I liked where we were at offensively. We were playing good. Goff was in a good spot and I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Goff was as cool as the evening air, cycling through his progression 1-2-3, before returning to LaPorta, his second option on the play.

The Chargers didn’t have any timeouts left, so the visitors were able to run out the clock with three kneel-downs, then finish the game with a 41-yard kick.

“To each his own,” Campbell said about the decision to go for the first down. “Some say it’s a boneheaded move, some say it’s not. I made the decision and I stick by that decision.”

Certainly, no one will question it now.

In normal circumstances, Campbell wouldn’t look at game video on the flight home. He wants emotions to subside before he starts grading the performances of players.

But as he prepared for the flight back Sunday night, he intended to take a peek.

Then again …

“I’ll just melt in my seat probably a little bit,” he said.

With another big win in the books, the Lions have earned that.

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