8 candidates for the Lions Week 18 game ball vs. Packers

The Detroit Lions exorcised some demons in Week 18, walking into Green Bay with the purpose of eliminating the Packers from the playoffs and letting a national audience know the Lions’ time is now.

On their way to a 20-16 victory, the Lions had several players make key plays, which leads us to our Week 18 game ball candidates.

Kerby Joseph

Stats: 5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups

When Joseph intercepted Aaron Rodgers late in the fourth quarter, not only did he get the ball back to the offense for a game-winning drive, but he became the only player in NFL history to intercept Rodgers three times in one season. In fact, he became just the second player in NFL history to intercept Rodgers three times in their entire career (Bears Brian Urlacher).

Joseph caps off a monster rookie season by possibly intercepting the final pass of Rodgers’ career—and if he doesn’t retire, Kerby embraces the opportunity for more picks.

“If that’s his last pass, I’m saving that ball and I’m sending it to him so he can sign it,” Joseph told the Athletic’s Colton Pouncy. “If he don’t sign it, I’ll understand. But I doubt he’s gonna retire. He’s probably gonna try to come back, and if he comes back, he more plays for me.”

The bravado is infectious.

Jamaal Williams

Stats: 16 rushes, 72 yards, 2 rushing touchdowns (franchise single-season record)

Statistically, this game could have been better, but Williams grinded out yards for the Lions, especially late in the game, managed to punch it into the endzone twice, hit a benchmark, and set a new franchise record.

Williams broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier on the season, the first time a Lions rusher has been able to accomplish this since Reggie Bush did back in 2013.

Williams also set a new Lions franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season (17), passing Barry Sanders’ mark of 16 sets in 1991. Williams and Sanders are the only two players in Lions franchise history to record at least 1,000 yards rushing and 15 rushing touchdowns in a single season.

Williams’ touchdown No. 17 was not only a record-setter but also the game-winner:

Williams also cut the greatest post-game interview in the history of the NFL:

Aidan Hutchinson

Stats: 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits

After being passed by teammate James Houston (8 sacks) in the NFL rookie sack race last week, Hutchinson registered bags number 8.5 and 9.5 on the season:

While Hutchinson fell one-half sack short of the Lions rookie sack record (Ziggy Ansah, 10), the Lions rookies as a whole totaled 20.5 sacks on the season, setting a new NFL record.

Hutchinson’s range, stability, development, and motor have been as advertised this season and those skills were once again on full display in Green Bay.

Jared Goff

Stats: 23 of 34 for 224 passing yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 fourth down conversions

While Goff’s stats were pedestrian in their totality, he once again stepped up in the big moments when the team needed him. In the second half, as pointed out by Jeremy ReismanGoff’s stat line was 10-of-13, 109 yards, 0 sacks, 101.1 passer rating, and he arguably made his best throw as a Lion, converting a 43-yard bomb to Kalif Raymond:

Goff also converted two key fourth-and-2 plays that led to critical moments. The first was on Williams’ game-winning touchdown run, the second was to put the game on ice. Both times, he went to the same receiver…

DJ Chark

Stats: 3 catches for 14 yards

Like Goff, Chark stepped up at the game’s greatest moment and deserves some love despite a moderate stat line:

Amun-Ra St. Brown

Stats: 6 catches, 49 yards

Speaking of big moments, the hook-and-ladder play that set up the above fourth-down conversion from Goff to Chark doesn’t even get considered unless you have a player like St. Brown on the roster.

His ability to be trusted to not only make the catch—knowing he is going to get hit—but to deliver a perfect lateral to D’Andre Swift.

Alim McNeill (and the rest of the interior defensive line)

Alim McNeill: 1 tackle, 2 QB hits
Isaiah Buggs: 7 tackles
Benito Jones: 4 tackles, 1 QB hit

The trio of McNeill, Buggs, and Jones held the Packers to 103 rushing yards as a team, with their neither of their lead backs clearing 50 yards on the ground: Aaron Jones had 48 (4.0 average), while AJ Dillon had just 33 ( 3.7 averages). Buggs and Jones were stout, consistently resetting the line-of-scrimmage, while McNeill was wrecking the Packers’ interior offensive line, putting pressure on Rodgers.

But McNeill’s best play of the game won’t show up in the box score. On a fumble caused by John Cominsky and recovered by Will Harris, McNeill recognized Packers tight end Robert Tonyan had a path to the ball and Alim lowered the boom on him, knocking him out of the play and clearing a path to the ball for his teammates .

Alex Anzalone

Stats: 8 tackles (led team), 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit

The veteran MIKE linebacker really elevated his game this season and he once again made critical plays when the defense needed a stop.

After the Packers took a three-point lead and the Lions were forced to punt on the next offensive possession, Green Bay opted to keep the pressure on the Lions and go for it on fourth down. On the play, Anzalone reads the sweep left perfectly, attacks with aggression, and made a critical stop to get the Lions the ball—which they turned into three points, setting up a much-needed possession.

His quarterback hit also came on an important play: the Kerby Joseph interception. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glen called a double linebacker blitz and Anzalone was the one who got home on Rodgers forcing the rushed throw. Anzalone made a savvy veteran move to vacate his game and scrape off Derrick Barnes, who hit the right guard and opened up the A-Gap.

Let’s watch it again, you know, for fun:

Alright, time to vote:

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Who deserves the Lions Week 18 game ball?

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    Jamaal Williams

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    Aidan Hutchinson

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    Amun-Ra St. Brown

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    Alim McNeill (iDL teammates)

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