Matthew Stafford had time in the pocket. His new receiver started sprinting down the field. And by the time Stafford’s pass came close to Kenny Golladay, the Detroit Lions rookie had already beaten two Arizona Cardinals defensive backs and leapt in the air.
Golladay not only caught the ball -- with a high degree of difficulty -- but he did it while falling into the end zone, too. And if there was any question about whether the hype surrounding him would carry into the regular season, Sunday's performance answered that. After a rough start, Golladay had two touchdowns in Detroit’s 35-23 win over Arizona -- both of which showed why the Lions might have gotten a third-round steal.
His first touchdown, a 10-yarder, displayed the 6-foot-4, 213-pound receiver’s catch radius and leaping ability. He jumped over an Arizona defensive back on a fade route that was reminiscent of what the Lions used to do with Calvin Johnson.
"At that point, I felt like I needed it," Golladay said. "I feel like I needed to make a play and I was just happy that Matt threw a great ball and I just had to go get it, and the rest is history."
Golladay is nowhere near Johnson's level yet -- remember, he's just a rookie, only caught four of seven targets for 69 yards and will surely have growing pains in the future -- but this was an impressive start.
His second touchdown was much harder and more impressive. It showed he might be an effective full-field weapon sooner than anyone imagined. At the very least, for the first time since Johnson retired, the Lions might have a tall, deep threat once again.
"He’s developing. He’s a rookie. Did he do everything right today? No. But did he make some big-time catches? Absolutely," Stafford said. "On the first touchdown, it was a check at the line of scrimmage and sometimes that’s a rookie out there and you don’t know if he’s going to get it, and he got it and made the great catch. And the second one, man, what a great catch.
"Some other things that we can clean up? Absolutely. But it’s nice to have a guy that’s willing to put in the work and really grind."
What it means: Yes, it’s only the first game, but the Lions needed this one. With a tough schedule to start the year (facing playoff teams in the Giants and Falcons the next two weeks), picking up a win in Week 1 was critical. How the Lions did it, with an offense that struggled to get going until the second half and relying on a strong performance from the defense, was key as well since Detroit’s defense was a unit in question all preseason. If the offense can find rhythm and the defense continues its strong play, the Lions might have a chance to be pretty good this year.
What I liked: Golden Tate. Detroit’s most consistent receiver was the picture of reliability Sunday. He didn’t score, but he had the most targets for Detroit (12), most receptions (10) and most yards (107). More impressive was how he did it, doing a lot of his work after injuring his left hand early in the second half. He missed a play here and there after the injury, but gutted through a game when he was clearly in pain. His ability to turn small receptions into big gains opens up Detroit’s offense. After the game, Tate said his finger "feels great" but declined to say if he had X-rays. He said the finger "hurt a little bit."
The Lions defense was also very impressive. While the sack numbers weren’t there, there were four quarterback hits and a decent amount of pressure (but a lot of missed sack opportunities). The Lions secondary also played well, contributing three interceptions and keeping Arizona’s receivers from hurting them. Before David Johnson’s injury, the Lions did well containing him, too, in part because of smart defense from the front four -- Detroit’s biggest question entering the season. The Lions defense might be better than expected.
What I didn’t like: Dwayne Washington as a kick returner -- and neither did the Lions. I mentioned this in the preseason as well, that Washington’s vision and decisions were potential liabilities, and they showed up again on two bad choices to take the ball out of the end zone and an unnecessary roughness penalty on a punt return that cost Detroit yards. By the start of the second half, Jamal Agnew was Detroit’s kick returner.
Fantasy fallout: Ameer Abdullah was a fantasy non-factor with 30 rushing yards and 11 receiving yards. Plus, he didn’t get into the end zone in a season opener for the first time in his career. Stafford had a strong fantasy day (29-of-41, 292 yards, four touchdowns) and the beneficiaries were Tate and Golladay -- with Golladay becoming an emerging star.
Another week, another new punter?: It might be the case for Detroit after Kasey Redfern injured his knee running out of the end zone after he dropped a perfect snap from Don Muhlbach. Redfern was hit pretty hard and was carted back to the locker room. He was ruled out -- and it’ll be something to monitor since Sam Martin can’t come off the injured list for at least another five weeks. Lions coach Jim Caldwell called Redfern's injury "significant," and the Lions will have to solve their possible punter problem by next week.
What’s next: Detroit’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Lions will have another day of rest before they head to New Jersey to play the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. They’ll likely be paying attention to Odell Beckham Jr.’s status all week as he’d be a key part of the game plan.