EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — It seemed unlikely this summer. A month ago, it was a pipe dream.
But after winning their third straight game Sunday, 31-18 over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, the Detroit Lions are starting to look like legitimate playoff contenders.
“Hell yeah,” Lions running back Jamaal Williams said when asked if the Lions can make a playoff push with seven games left in the regular season. “We are doing it now.”
The Lions played their best all-around game of Dan Campbell’s tenure as head coach Sunday.
Williams ran for three touchdowns, Aidan Hutchinson intercepted a momentum-turning pass in the second quarter, and the Lions held NFL rushing leader Saquon Barkley to 22 yards on 15 carries to extend their winning streak to three games.
LIONS GRADES:Nearly straight-as for Dan Campbell and Co. vs. Giants
SEIDEL:Lions finally showing some real progress by extending winning streak vs. Giants
It’s the Lions’ first three-game winning streak since November 2017, when they beat the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears in consecutive weeks. And after starting the season an unsightly 1-6, they’ve made believers out of everyone in the locker room.
“It’s crazy man,” cornerback Jerry Jacobs said. “You can really see it. Everyone believes it, even the coaches to the owner. Everyone’s just believing and once you get that feeling of believing, everything just starts connecting. And I feel like that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Jacobs said Lions owner Sheila Hamp stood outside the locker room Sunday, greeting players with hugs as they walked through the door.
The Lions (4-6) are 1½ games out of the NFC’s final wild card spot entering next week’s Thanksgiving showdown with the Buffalo Bills and are winning thanks to an opportunistic defense and power running game.
On Sunday, the Lions forced three turnovers by a Giants team that had just eight in its first nine games of the season, and they outgained the league’s third-best rushing offense on the ground, 160 yards to 89.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world right now,” defensive tackle Alim McNeill said. “Just winning, nothing feels better than winning in a sport. That’s all you want to do. You do everything you do, throughout the week, throughout the offseason to win and it feels good to, when we go in with the gameplan, we executed it and we do what we’re supposed to do and we dominate and we win.
“That just feels good and I think that’s really what’s like sparking us right now and nobody wants to go back to that feeling of losing. Like nobody wants to go there. Winning is everything.”
The Lions trailed 6-3 midway through the second quarter Sunday when Hutchinson, the Lions’ rookie first-round pick, intercepted a Daniel Jones pass to turn momentum the Lions’ way.
Hutchinson’s pick came on a zone blitz when he faked a pass rush and dropped into coverage from his right defensive end position, and it was one of two interceptions the Lions had Sunday against Jones. Rookie Kerby Joseph intercepted his third pass of the season in the third quarter.
Jones, who threw just two interceptions in the Giants’ first nine games, had not thrown a pick in 145 straight pass attempts entering the game, a streak that dated to the Giants’ Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“That was the play that we needed at that moment,” Campbell said. “This is why they’ve won, they play the long game, they play smart football, they wait for the opponent to beat them, they capitalize on a mistake. We were able to play that game today ourselves, and when we needed a play, we capitalized. Hutch made a play and that changed our fortune there a little bit. That’s the ebbs and flows of the game.”
Williams scored his first touchdown four plays after Hutchinson’s interception on a 4-yard run, and the Lions scored touchdowns on each of their next two possessions to build an insurmountable 24-6 lead.
Williams capped a seven-play, 68-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run just before halftime, and he finished off the Lions’ first series of the third quarter with another 1-yard plunge. D’Andre Swift added a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, four plays after Hutchinson recovered a Giants fumble.
Williams has an NFL-leading 12 touchdowns on the season. Six of them have come in the four games since he lost a fourth quarter fumble on the goal line in a Week 7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“You can’t be a weenie,” Williams said. “You can’t let lows stop you from being how great you really are. You know your potential, and we know what type of team we are and what type of players we are. So we never let the lows stop us from working hard, going back to work, getting in there, ready to come to the next game. Be efficient, execute and come out with a (win).”
Williams finished with 64 yards on 17 carries Sunday, Justin Jackson added 66 yards on nine carries and Jared Goff completed 17 of 26 passes for 165 yards for the Lions.
Jones completed 27 of 44 passes for 341 yards and ran for a touchdown for the Giants, who have lost two of three games since a 6-1 start.
“That was outstanding,” Campbell said. “I was proud of our guys. I was proud of our coaches, the gameplan they developed. We knew what we had to do, and the players executed it. Everything that we said we had to do and needed to do to beat this team, we did that really for almost all of the game. There were a couple of spots in there, but these guys are playing their asses off and they’re starting to figure out a way to win.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
Three for all
The Lions’ three-game win streak — featuring victories over the Packers, Bears and Giants — is their first of more than two games in five years. Their three most recent streaks:
November 6-19, 2017: Under coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions took down the Packers on the road, the Browns at home and the Bears on the road before losing to the Vikings on Thanksgiving.
November 6-Dec. 11, 2016: Caldwell’s Lions went more than a month without a loss, stringing together five victories around a bye week. They finally fell to a 10-4 Giants squad in New Jersey on Dec. 18.
October 9-23, 2016: After dropping three straight, Caldwell’s squad bounced back with three straight, beating the Eagles, Rams and Washington at Ford Field before losing to the Texans on Oct. 30.