Detroit, MI – Matthew Stafford struggled for much of the game, but he shined when it counted as his 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds to play led the Detroit Lions to a 27-23 win over the St. Louis Rams in the opener at Ford Field.
Stafford was picked off three times in the first half, including one that was returned for a touchdown, but he guided the team on two fourth-quarter touchdowns to give the Lions (1-0) the win in front of the home crowd.
Smith had a terrific game as he carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards and a score and added four catches for 29 yards and the winning score for Detroit, which is hoping to build off last season's 10-6 mark that saw the team lose to New Orleans in the playoffs, its first postseason appearance since 1999.
"Our defense did a hell of a job in the second half," said Stafford. "You know, it wasn't pretty out there today, but the guys stuck together and a win is a win."
Sam Bradford had an efficient game as he went 17-for-25 with 198 yards and a score while Brandon Gibson finished the game with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown for the Rams (0-1), who went 2-14 last year and have now lost eight straight.
"I'm really disappointed for our team because we did a great job of preparing," said St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game, but we just couldn't hang on at the end there."
The Rams had taken a 23-20 lead with 1:55 to play after Greg Zuerlein hit a 46-yard field goal, of the game.
Detroit started the drive at its own 20 and Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for 20 yards on the first play. A 20-yard catch by Nate Burleson moved the ball to the St. Louis 40 and Johnson later had an 18-yard catch to get the ball down to the 5-yard line. After Stafford spiked the ball with 15 seconds to play, he spotted Smith out in the right flat and the running back took it into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 10 seconds to play and the Rams didn't have enough time to get anything going.
"We kept talking about how we had plenty of time to score a touchdown," said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz. "That was the plan the whole time, but you can't do that without a quarterback like Matt back there."
The second half started with the Rams holding a three-point lead and beginning with the ball at their own 20, but in three plays they lost 10 yards and had to punt.
Detroit had excellent field position as Stefan Logan returned the ball 15 yards to the St. Louis 45. The Lions only moved 15 yards, but made it a 13-13 game on a 45-yard field goal from Jason Hanson.
The game stayed that way until the fourth quarter, when the Rams took the lead back. On the fifth play of the drive from the Detroit 23, Bradford lofted a pass down the left sideline and Gibson came down with it for a 20-13 lead with 9:45 to play.
Detroit, though, answered with a quick drive that took just under 2 1/2 minutes and was finished when Smith bulled his way into the end zone from five yards out to again tie the game with 7:19 left.
Bradford, though, guided the team on a 13-play, 52-yard drive that ate up 5:24 and Zuerlein's field goal gave the Rams a short-lived lead.
Stafford and the Lions started the game with the ball and put together an impressive drive that got down to the St. Louis 3. On 1st-and-goal, rookie Janoris Jenkins stepped in front of a short pass to Tony Scheffler at the right side and picked it off, returning the ball to the St. Louis 34.
St. Louis kept the ball for 10 plays and close to six minutes, but it stalled at the Detroit 30 and Zuerlein was good from 48 yards for his first career field goal and a 3-0 lead with 1:57 left in the first.
The Lions came back with another methodical drive that spanned the first and second quarters. On the 14th play of the drive at the St. Louis 1, Joique Bell bulled his way up the middle for his first career touchdown and a 7-3 lead with 9:26 to play in the first half.
Detroit then held St. Louis to a three-and-out and a 21-yard return from Logan coupled with a penalty on the Rams for a horse collar tackle gave the Lions excellent field position at the St. Louis 32.
However, Stafford was again picked off, this time by Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who returned his first career pick to the Detroit 44. That led to a 29-yard field goal by Zuerlein to make it a 7-6 game with 2:35 to play in the half.
The Rams defense continued to plague Stafford on Detroit's next drive. On the third play, Cortland Finnegan read it perfectly and picked off a pass intended for Johnson, returning it 31 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 13-7 lead.
Detroit answered on its next drive as Stafford went deep for Johnson, who leaped up for the 51-yard grab, setting up a 41-yard field goal from Hanson to make it a 13-10 game heading to the break.
Shannon Eastin made NFL history in the game as the first female to ever referee a regular-season game. The 42-year-old became the first female to ref an NFL game when she was a line judge in a preseason game between Green Bay and San Diego in August ... Rams tackle Rodger Saffold was taken off the field on the cart with his neck immobilized on Gibson's touchdown. The team later said that he had movement in all of his extremities ... Johnson had six catches for 111 yards while Burleson finished with six catches for 69 yards... Steven Jackson had 21 carries for 53 yards and added four catches for 31 yards for the Rams ... Detroit totaled 429 yards while the Rams managed 251 ... Detroit had seven come-from-behind wins last season.