NEW ORLEANS — For three quarters, the Detroit Lions performed like playoff veterans.
They led Drew Brees and the mighty New Orleans Saints at halftime. They were still right in the game heading to the fourth quarter.
But Brees and the Saints blew it open in the final period, turning Detroit's postseason return into a one-and-done affair with a 45-28 NFC playoff victory that was much closer most of the night on a raucous Saturday at the Superdome.
Having already eclipsed Dan Marino's 27-year-old record for passing yards in a season, Brees turned in his best performance yet by shredding the Lions for 466 yards through the air, the most ever in a playoff game that didn't go to overtime. In all, the teams combined for 1,038 yards, tying a postseason record.
Detroit simply couldn't keep up, despite putting on an impressive offensive showing of its own.
Matthew Stafford threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, plus scoring himself on a 1-yard bootleg and dive. Calvin Johnson had a huge game with 211 yards receiving, hauling in a pair of TD passes. But Detroit, after forcing a couple of fumbles in the first half but also getting hurt by an inadvertent whistle, finally wore down against a team that hasn't lost at home all season.
Brees threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem with 7½ minutes remaining that gave New Orleans (14-3) a commanding 38-21 lead. The Lions (10-7) had one last hurrah — Stafford's 12-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 4:40 remaining — but New Orleans recovered an onside kick, quickly drove for another TD and the celebration was on in the Big Easy.
Still, the Lions gave themselves plenty of reasons for optimism after their first playoff appearance since 1999, though they'll have to wait even longer for their first postseason win in more than two decades.
This is a team on the rise.
But it's not their time just yet.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company