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Lions survive another defensive breakdown

Detroit Lions linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) tackles New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) causing an injury during the second half of Sunday’s game in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP photo)

DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Lions turned an early rout into a nail-biter on Sunday, and not in the way Dan Campbell wanted.

The Lions led the New Orleans Saints 21-0 in the first seven minutes, but had to hold on at the end.

In the last five minutes, the Saints had the ball in Lions territory, trailing 33-28, but turned the ball over on downs at the Detroit 40.

“We won that game in the first eight minutes,” Campbell said. “We didn’t know that was how it was going to go down, but that’s what gave us the lead that we were able to use to hold on and win.”

Detroit’s offense and defense combined for the quick start. The Lions turned an interception and two three-and-outs into three touchdowns.

That could have ended the game, but Detroit’s shaky defense gave up 28 points in the final 3 1/2 quarters to let the Saints back into the game.

Even with Derek Carr injured, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill gave the Saints a chance to stun the Lions at the end.

“We had to fight them off at the end, but the defense got us two takeaways that turned into 14 points,” Campbell said. “Then (Jared) Goff made two critical plays on third downs to finish it off.

“There’s nothing easy about these wins, but we found a way.”

WHAT’S WORKING: Tight end Sam LaPorta had nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown against the Saints. The second-round pick out of Iowa has 64 catches for 679 yards and six touchdowns and has joined WR Amon-Ra St. Brown as Goff’s top playmakers in key situations.

Campbell had a good career as an NFL tight end, but struggles to talk about LaPorta’s performance.

“I know what it is like to do what he’s doing when it comes to run-blocking and pass protection, but I have no idea what it is like to go out there, run those routes and catch all those passes,” he said with a smile. “I was never close to that level. It’s not easy to play this position as a rookie, but he can do it all.”

WHAT’S NOT: Detroit’s defensive slump has gotten alarming, and could have already ruined its season. The Lions have given up an average of 28.8 points in their past six games, and could have gone 1-5 if not for the offense’s scoring prowess.

The defensive line is the biggest concern — opponents have averaged 121.5 rushing yards and the Lions have struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

STOCK UP: After turning the ball over six times in a come-from-behind win against the Bears and a Thanksgiving loss to the Packers, Goff did what the Lions needed in the Superdome.

He only threw for 213 yards, but he didn’t turn the ball over and hit two key third down passes that let the Lions run out the clock in the fourth quarter.

STOCK DOWN: Rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs has been a valuable part of Detroit’s passing game at times, but in the past two games, he has only caught five of 10 targets for 13 yards.

Gibbs had one catch on two targets against the Saints for minus-6 yards.

INJURIES: C Frank Ragnow, the leader of Detroit’s stellar offensive line, left the game with a knee injury. It wasn’t as bad as Lions doctors originally feared, but Campbell said he will probably miss Sunday’s game in Chicago.

KEY NUMBER: 2: The Lions defense forced two turnovers on Sunday — the first time they had done that since a Week 5 win over the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 8.

NEXT STEPS: The Lions need to be ready for the Bears at Soldier Field, before a tough finishing stretch that includes two games against the Vikings, a home game against Denver and a trip to Dallas.

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