Lions advance to first NFC Championship since 1991 season with win vs. buccaneers

By Larry Holder, Colton Pouncy and Mike Jones

It’s only the second time in NFL history that this statement is true: The Detroit Lions are one win away from a Super Bowl berth.

The Lions pulled away in the fourth quarter after both teams switched scores through the first three quarters as Detroit beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 in the NFC divisional round on Sunday at Ford Field.

Detroit will travel to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship next Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. The Niners topped the Green Bay Packers in Saturday’s divisional round matchup.

This will be the Lions’ second appearance in an NFC Championship Game in the Super Bowl era. Detroit lost to Washington in the 1991 season in its first appearance.

Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs darted up the middle of the offensive line, then made his cut to the left for a 31-yard touchdown run with 13:13 left in the game to put the Lions ahead 24-17. Detroit then sealed the win when Jared Goff connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 9-yard touchdown pass to make the score 31-17 with 6:22 remaining.

Goff completed 30 of 43 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns, resulting in a passer rating of 103.5.

The Bucs managed to cut the lead to 31-23 on the next possession when Baker Mayfield found Mike Evans for a 16-yard touchdown pass at the 4:41 mark. The two-point conversion attempt failed. However, Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes intercepted Mayfield with 1:33 left to thwart any comeback.

The Lions’ scoring sequence in the fourth quarter erased the trend of the first 45 minutes.

Detroit’s Craig Reynolds scored a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down to push Detroit up 17-10 with 3:48 left in the third quarter. Mayfield helped Tampa Bay tie it on the next possession with a second game-tying touchdown by hitting Rachaad White on a screen pass for a 12-yard scoring connection.

Mayfield completed 26 of 41 passes for 349 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 94.5. Evans had eight receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown.

The back-and-forth scoring trend began in the first half. Detroit broke a 3-3 tie when Goff hit Josh Reynolds on a crossing route for a 9-yard touchdown connection early in the second quarter.

The Athletic has live coverage of the Chiefs vs. Bills in it AFC Divisional Round match

Evans then added consecutive receptions of 27 and 29 yards from Mayfield with less than a minute left, putting the Bucs at the 2-yard line. Mayfield capped a 92-yard drive by finding Cade Otton on the next play for a 2-yard touchdown. yards to score. 10-10 heading into halftime.

Lions fans, this is happening!

The Lions are going to the NFC Championship. Yes, you read that right.

Those Lions are one win away from appearing in the Super Bowl. They’re in this position because they took care of everything against the Buccaneers, making all the plays they needed. The offense scored 31 points, keeping their foot on the accelerator and capitalizing in the red zone. The defense kept the Lions in it until the offense was ready, and made the play to seal the game on a Barnes interception. That was a complete win, in the playoffs, for this Lions team. Detroit advances.

The Lions will face their biggest test yet, traveling to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. It won’t be easy facing Christian McCaffrey and the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but these Lions believe they can play anywhere, against anyone, and win. We’ll see what they have in store next week. — Colton Pouncy, Lions writer

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Tampa Bay fought valiantly, but in the fourth quarter simply couldn’t make the stops needed to overcome the Lions. And then Detroit’s defense stepped up with the interception to seal the game. Detroit was simply the better team. This game, especially in the second half, felt like a prize fight, but the Lions were the slightly more skilled and talented fighters and prevailed.

This one will hurt Mayfield for a while, but he made some big plays under pressure for the Bucs and gave them a chance until that final possession. — Mike Jones, national NFL writer

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(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)