By Larry Lage
DETROIT, Mich. (AP) — Jared Goff is good enough for Detroit, as his coach recently reminded him.
Cast away by the Los Angeles Rams three years ago in a trade for Matthew Stafford, the quarterback was welcomed by the Lions and has since become a fan favorite at Ford Field, where the crowd chanted his name during a second straight home playoff triumph for the long-downtrodden franchise.
Goff threw his second touchdown pass with 6:22 left and the Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 in the divisional round on Sunday, lifting Detroit into the NFC championship for the first time in 32 years and just the second time in franchise history.
He took a knee on three straight snaps to run out the clock, giving him a chance to enjoy the sights and sounds as fans stood, screamed and twirled white towels.
“I knew it would be the last one in front of our home fans this year, and I took it all in,” Goff said.
The Lions (14-5) won two playoff games in a season for the first time since 1957, the last year they won the NFL title, and had two postseason games at home for the first time.
Now they have to travel to face San Francisco, the NFC’s top seed, next Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl — a game they have never played in.
“I envisioned that we would have a chance to compete with the big boys, and that’s where we’re at,” said coach Dan Campbell, who was hired shortly before Goff was acquired.
Jahmyr Gibbs ran through a huge hole for a tiebreaking, 31-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Goff made it a two-TD lead when he connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 9-yard score.
Goff finished 30 of 43 for 287 yards and directed an efficient second-half offense for the Lions, who had long touchdown drives on three consecutive possessions. St. Brown had eight catches for 77 yards, and his TD catch capped a masterful 10-play, 89-yard drive.
“Goff in that fourth quarter, he really showed up and made some big throws,” said Campbell, who told Goff he was good enough for Detroit last week when he gave him a game ball after beating his former team in a wild-card game.
Gibbs, an electric rookie Tampa Bay didn’t have to face when it lost to Detroit in the regular season, had 74 yards rushing on nine carries and four receptions for 40 yards.
The Lions, and their desperate-for-a-winner fans, hope their second appearance in the NFC title game works out better than the first when Washington routed them 41-10 on Jan. 12, 1992.
Baker Mayfield threw three TD passes for Tampa Bay (10-9), including a 16-yard toss to Mike Evans that got the Bucs within one score with 4:37 left.
Detroit couldn’t run out the clock on offense, giving Tampa Bay one last chance, but Mayfield’s pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker Derrick Barnes, the quarterback’s second pick of the day.
Mayfield was 26 of 41 for 349 yards. His early pick went off Mike Evans’ hands, and his late one was an ill-advised throw.
“It comes down to minimizing mistakes and I didn’t do that,” Mayfield said.
Evans had eight receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Rachaad White had 55 yards rushing on nine carries, a total coach Todd Bowles may lament wasn’t higher, and four catches for 36 yards.
“Anything short of the Super Bowl is a disappointment,” Bowles said.
Detroit and Tampa Bay traded field goals and touchdowns to enter the fourth quarter in a 17-all tie.
The Lions went ahead for a third time with 3:48 left in the third quarter, when Campbell went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and Craig Reynolds ran up the middle for a score that ended a 10-play, 64-yard drive.
Mayfield and the Bucs bounced back again with the crafty veteran, who resurrected his career this season, avoiding sacks before connecting with White on a 12-yard pass to make it 17-all late in the third.
Gibbs started left and cut back to the right on his tiebreaking touchdown run.
The NFC North champion Lions were fortunate to score first.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson picked off Mayfield’s pass that went through Evans’ hands to end Tampa Bay’s first drive. Goff almost gave it back, underthrowing a pass into the end zone that defensive back Jamel Dean dropped, and two snaps later, Michael Badgley made a 23-yard field goal.
Mayfield answered, converting a third down with an 18-yard pass to Evans and throwing a 23-yard pass to Trey Palmer on consecutive plays to set up Chase McLaughlin’s 43-yard kick.
Goff converted a third down with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds early in the second quarter.
Mayfield used his feet and arm to pull the Bucs into a tie just before halftime. He ran for 14 yards — the longest run by a Tampa Bay quarterback in a playoff game — on a third down and then connected with Evans for 27- and 29-yard passes to set up a 2-yard TD pass to Cade Cotton.
In the end, the NFC South champions came up short, ending a season in which they surpassed modest expectations.
That wasn’t of much consolation.
“It feel like my heart just got ripped out,” Mayfield said.
Bucs: S Kaevon Merriweather (ankle) was injured in the third quarter and was carted off the field. Dean limped off the field in the fourth.
Lions: G Jonah Jackson (knee) was injured in the first half and didn’t return. TE Brock Wright (forearm) was knocked out of the game in the second half.
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