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DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 05: Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions celebrates with head coach Dan Campbell after defeating the Minnesota Vikings 29-27 to win their first game of the season at Ford Field on December 05, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

The Lions finally won their first game of the 2021 season on Sunday, coming back to beat the Vikings 29-27 with a dramatic last-second touchdown pass from Jared Goff to rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. The only thing better than the victory was Dan Campbell’s postgame press conference, specifically how he began it.

Before taking questions from reporters, the Lions head coach dedicated a game ball “to the whole Oxford community,” which experienced tragedy last Tuesday when a student gunman allegedly opened fire inside Oxford High School, killing four classmates and wounding seven others. Campbell’s voice trembled as he read the names of the victims.

“I just — you know — I just want us to not forget these names,” Campbell said. “Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Tate Myre, Phoebe Arthur, John Asciutto, Riley Franz, Elijah Mueller, Kylie Ossege, Aiden Watson and Molly Darnell, who's a teacher.

“Those names, um, for all those ... will never be forgotten. And they’re in our hearts and in our prayers. All the families and not to mention all of those that were affected through all of this — the classmates, brothers and sisters, the cousins, the teachers, everybody … coaches.”

Like the rest of Michigan, the horrific news hit the Lions hard and weighed on their minds all week. On Sunday, safety Jalen Elliott honored Myre, a player on the Oxford football team who also wore No. 42, by putting the fallen teenager’s last name on the back of a customized jersey which he wore while entering Ford Field.

The Lions built a 20-6 halftime advantage and took a 23-15 lead into the fourth quarter. Up 23-21 with just over four minutes left, Campbell opted to go for the first down on fourth-and-1 from Detroit’s own 28-yard line, and the risky decision backfired as a strip sack of Goff gave Minnesota the ball with 4:01 to play. Kirk Cousins’ second touchdown pass of the day — a 3-yarder to Justin Jefferson — put the Vikings ahead 27-23 with only 1:50 remaining.

“I felt like I needed to be aggressive a little bit today, just knowing the nature of their offense, and man, I felt like we could get that,” Campbell explained afterward. “So it didn’t work out, and at least we were guaranteed to get the ball back.”

Despite their 0-10-1 record, the Lions had put themselves in position to win on three occasions this season, only to have their hearts broken on field goals as time expired. In Week 3, they lost 19-17 to the Ravens on Justin Tucker’s record-setting 66-yarder, and in Week 5, Minnesota beat Detroit 19-17 on Greg Joseph’s 54-yard kick. A series of late clock-management blunders by Campbell made for an unhappy Thanksgiving, as the Bears were allowed to run off the final 8:30 before having Cairo Santos boot a 28-yarder to deal the Lions a 16-14 defeat.

So, you could’ve excused Detroit fans for being pessimistic Sunday during the game’s final drive. Goff picked up first downs on passes to Josh Reynolds, Godwin Igwebuike and St. Brown, and his 10-yard completion to T.J. Hockenson got another first down to the Vikings’ 19-yard line with 13 seconds left. Then, St. Brown got out of bounds on an 8-yard reception to the Minnesota 11, and Goff’s incompletion to Reynolds gave the Lions one last chance with four seconds remaining.

“It came down to one play,” Goff said, “and we were able to make it.”

Goff’s clutch throw and St. Brown’s winning catch set off a wild celebration on the field, but as the quarterback acknowledged afterward, the Lions weren’t just playing for themselves on Sunday. “You never hope for a tragedy like this, but you hope to be a light for those people and a positive thing that they can have fun watching today,” Goff said while holding back his emotions.

In an ecstatic, relieved and still-thoughtful Lions locker room, Campbell was presented with his own game ball by veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers. The special moment capped arguably the league's best and most meaningful victory of 2021 so far.

Best offensive performance

Kyler Murray, Cardinals. Sunday was all about bounce-back games for quarterbacks. It began with Justin Herbert’s 317-yard, three-TD effort in the Chargers’ 41-22 victory over the Bengals, and it continued with two-TD performances by Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger in big wins over division rivals by the Seahawks and Steelers, respectively. Murray returned from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury and looked like his old self in accounting for four touchdowns (two passing, two running) in a 33-22 win over Chicago. With the victory, Arizona improved to an NFC-best 10-2. More importantly, the Cardinals finally have their MVP candidate back for a stretch run to secure the conference’s No. 1 seed.

Best defensive performance

T.J. Watt, Steelers. Cliches are frowned upon here, but the deciding play of Pittsburgh’s 20-19 nail-biter over Baltimore was an example of football being, yes, a “game of inches.” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh surprisingly passed up a tying extra point and elected to gamble on a go-ahead 2-point conversion with 12 seconds left. Watt’s pressure forced Lamar Jackson to throw just a tad off-target to a wide-open Mark Andrews, who could only get his finger tips on the ball. The QB hurry was Watt’s sixth of the game to go with his 3 1/2 sacks, six tackles (three for losses) and one forced fumble.

Best special teams performance

Brian Johnson, Washington. Kickers can be the goat (the lowercase, less-admirable version), and they can be the hero. And they can be part of a team’s revolving door of kickers due to ineptitude or injury. The Football Team signed Johnson because of the latter, as he was brought on board last Tuesday to replace Joey Slye. On Sunday, with Washington’s last-minute drive stalling at the Raiders’ 31-yard line, Ron Rivera called on Johnson, the 22-year-old undrafted free agent from Virginia Tech who was let go by the Saints after missing two extra points in a 23-21 Week 10 loss at Tennessee. Johnson had his kick stay just inside the right upright for what would be a winning 48-yard field goal for a crucial 17-15 victory, WFT’s fourth in a row to reach .500 at 6-6. "It's an awesome locker room to be in,” Johnson said. “They're probably still learning my name, but it's awesome to be here.”

Best statistics

  • Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected for 90 regular-season TD passes, the second most in NFL history for tandems.
  • The Cardinals’ road domination — seven straight victories by 10 points or more — has only been matched by the 1984 49ers since the 1970 merger.
  • Justin Tucker has made 56 consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime.
  • Taylor Heinicke has made an extra $500,000 during Washington’s four-game win streak.

Best plays

James Conner hauls in Kyler Murray’s pass with one hand en route to a 23-yard TD catch-and-run.

Mack Hollins twists in the air, gets both hands on the ball and gets both feet in bounds for a 5-yard TD.

Russell Gage Jr. breaks three tackles to pick up the Falcons first down.

K.J. Osborn lays out to get his hands on this laser from Kirk Cousins.

Logan Thomas makes the one-handed snag in the back of the end zone.

Travis Homer’s 73-yard TD run comes off a perfectly executed fake punt by the Seahawks.

Pressley Harvin II incredibly punts the ball to the half-yard line.

George Kittle tiptoes down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown.

Odell Beckham Jr.’s TD celebration was just as good as his leaping catch.

Sit back and enjoy the athleticism and artistry of Tyler Lockett’s sideline grab.

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