There wasn’t much more Casey Hayward could do. The Chargers cornerback matched Detroit receiver Kenny Golladay stride for stride on a fourth-quarter post pattern and was in position to make a game-saving play while avoiding a pass-interference penalty on a yellow-flag-filled afternoon.
It didn’t matter. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford dropped a perfectly thrown spiral from 31 yards out into the outstretched arms of Golladay, who made the catch with Hayward at his hip for the decisive touchdown in Detroit’s 13-10 victory over the Chargers at Ford Field.
“Yeah, I had that guy pretty well covered, and he made a good throw and a good catch,” Hayward said of the play, which came with 7 minutes 21 seconds left. “They’ve played in this league long enough — they’re gonna make good throws and catch balls too.”
It had been a pretty good day for the Chargers defense until that touchdown and the eight-play, 69-yard drive that led to it. Hayward and free safety Rayshawn Jenkins both intercepted third-quarter passes by Stafford, who entered the game with a string of 161 straight passes without an interception.
One week after allowing Indianapolis to rush for 203 yards in the season opener, the Chargers held the Lions to 94 yards on the ground, with linebacker Thomas Davis making a team-high 12 tackles and defensive ends Melvin Ingram (seven tackles) and Joey Bosa (six tackles) doing plenty of dirty work.
Stafford had a decent day, completing 22 of 30 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns — eight went to Golladay for 117 yards — but he wasn’t as prolific as he was in Detroit’s opener, when he completed 27 of 45 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona.
Lions rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson, who caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in the opener — an NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end in his debut — caught one pass for seven yards, with strong safety Adrian Phillips handling most of the coverage duties on the 6-foot-5, 247-pounder from Iowa.
The Chargers held the Lions to six points in the first three quarters and 13 points in the game, a stingy effort that is usually good enough to win on Sundays.
“I thought we played better defensively, especially against the run,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We worked at it this week, and it was good to see that it paid off against a good running team.”
The pass defense was especially stout in the third quarter, which featured Hayward’s first interception since Nov. 23, 2017, at Dallas.
From the Chargers 36-yard line, Stafford threw into the end zone for Golladay, who pulled Hayward down from behind as Hayward first juggled and then secured the ball with 11:29 left in the quarter. Golladay was called for pass interference, but that didn’t prevent Hayward from the interception.
“I just concentrated on the ball,” Hayward said. “I’ve made a pick like that before. I was in good position. The dude kind of yanked me and I was still able to get my hands on the ball.”
With less than a minute left in the third from the Lions’ 34-yard line, Stafford threw long over the middle to Marvin Jones. Jenkins, playing the center-field position in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s cover-three scheme, backpedaled and timed his jump perfectly to grab his first career interception.
“He just threw it up there,” Jenkins said of Stafford. “I couldn’t believe he threw it up there. My mindset was just go and high-point the ball. And make sure I come down with it.”
The Chargers came up with another big play in the fourth quarter when Bosa dropped C.J. Anderson for a three-yard loss on second down and cornerback Brandon Facyson made a nice ankle-tackle of Golladay on third down.
But on fourth-and-one from the Chargers’ 35, Stafford hit Jones for a four-yard pass and a first down. His next throw went to Golladay for the game-winning touchdown.
“We played good, but at the end of the day, we could have held them to fewer points,” Hayward said. “We didn’t do it on that last drive. We had them on fourth down, and they made another good play. We’ve got to figure out a way to win no matter how many points we hold them to.”