DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Lions leaned on their defense and special teams to score while the potentially potent offense sputtered for three quarters.
Detroit’s offense finally got going in the fourth, pulling ahead on Eric Ebron’s 1-yard touchdown run early in the quarter and padding the lead with Matt Prater’s 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in a 26-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
“When you start putting heat on us, man, we start playing better,” said Ebron, whose first carry in the NFL was set up by his career-long, 61-yard reception.
The Lions (6-4) have won five of six, keeping them in a tie atop the NFC North with Minnesota, despite trailing in the fourth quarter of every game. For a change, Matthew Stafford didn’t have to lead a game-winning drive in the final minutes.
Jacksonville (2-8) has lost five straight and had a chance to stop the skid.
The Jaguars could have forced Detroit to punt, or to go for it on a fourth-and-2 from their 46, with 2:34 left. Sen’Derrick Marks, though, was penalized for encroachment on a play in which Stafford didn’t intend to have the ball snapped.
“They’ve done it before on tape,” Stafford said.
Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley refused to blame Marks for the costly flag, and the nose tackle didn’t want to take responsibility for the latest loss.
“That wasn’t the only mistake,” Marks said.
Stafford converted a third-and-5 from the Jacksonville 36 with a 7-yard pass to Theo Riddick with 2:18 left. That set up Prater’s field goal to cap a 15-play, 60-yard drive that took nearly 8 minutes off the clock. The game-winning drive was a seven-play, 79-yard possession that ended with Ebron getting a handoff as he went from left to right after lining up as an off-the-line tight end.
Tavon Wilson sealed the victory with 2 seconds left with an interception, the second thrown by Blake Bortles.
RESTED AND RUSTY:
Coming off a bye, the Lions had more punts (five) than rushing yards (two) and just 18 yards passing late in the first half, but led 6-3 because Andre Roberts returned a punt 55 yards early in the second quarter after he fumbled on a punt return early in the game.
The Lions, who had just 14 yards rushing for their lowest total since 2007, were also fortunate their defense scored to put them ahead 16-9 early in the third when Rafael Bush returned an interception 39 yards for a TD.
“Winning is never pretty at least for us,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said.
The Jaguars avoided having a dubious NFL record all by themselves, finally getting a takeaway. In fact, they recovered two fumbles against a team that had lost only one fumble all season. They scored just three points those turnovers.
Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith played a day after attending his brother’s funeral. He made a team-high eight tackles and recovered a fumble.
“During the game he did a good job pushing it aside, but I’m sure now that it calms down a little bit, it’ll probably hit him again,” Bradley said. “I give him and T.J. (Yeldon) credit. T.J. had a death in his family, too, so both those guys were fighting through some things personally.”
Jaguars: RB T.J. Yeldon (ankle), CB Aaron Colvin (concussion, chest), TE Marcedes Lewis (calf) and OG Patrick Omameh (foot) left the game with injuries.
Lions: S Don Carey had a hamstring injury during the game, taking one of Detroit’s key special teams players off the field, and Riddick played through a hand injury.
Jaguars: Jacksonville stays on the road to play the Buffalo Bills (5-5).
Lions: Detroit hosts Minnesota (6-4) in a possibly pivotal game in the NFC North race. If the Lions win, they will sweep the season series to win a tiebreaker between the two teams if necessary.
“They’re coming in here hungry and angry,” Caldwell said.