3 Detroit Lions that need to play better to make the Super Bowl

The Detroit Lions defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Round. But the San Francisco 49ers are a much tougher opponent.

Jahmyr Gibbs has been electric whenever he touches the ball. Can the rookie carry the Lions to the Super Bowl?
Jahmyr Gibbs has been electric whenever he touches the ball. Can the rookie carry the Lions to the Super Bowl? / Nic Antaya/GettyImages
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The Detroit Lions have been the feel-good story of the NFL playoffs. While the Chiefs, Ravens, and 49ers are no strangers to a deep postseason run, the Lions have been a breath of fresh air. Ford Field has been rocking, Dan Campbell has been biting off kneecaps, and Jared Goff got to exact a large measure of revenge against the Rams and Sean McVay for giving up on him.

It feels like the Lions have become the new America's Team, especially since the Cowboys face-planted in their only playoff game. Sunday's NFC Championship Game will be a test unlike any Detroit has faced yet: a road date with the 49ers, who are playing in their third consecutive NFC Championship.

The Lions are one game away from the Super Bowl because of a total team effort, but for as well as Goff, Aidan Hutchinson, and Amon-Ra St. Brown have played, it will take even more to get the Lions to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Here are three players that need to step up to make Detroit's impossible dream a reality.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson needs to play better for Lions to win the NFC

C.J. Gardner-Johnson is no stranger to the big stage, having reached the Super Bowl last year as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. After missing most of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, the Lions big free agent acquisition came back just in time for the playoff run, and with a potent San Francisco offense awaiting, the Lions will need a big game from their brash safety to shut down the middle of the field.

Gardner-Johnson is the perfect player for an upstart team like the Lions, because he won't shy away from the moment. Last week in the lead-up to the Divisional Round game against the Buccaneers, he basically said that Tampa Bay would be really good if they had a quarterback, a direct shot at Baker Mayfield. CJGJ backed up his words come gametime, snatching a deflected pass for an interception on the Bucs' first possession, then flipping the ball to Mayfield after a solid return.

Gardner-Johnson has had words with 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel before, too, saying the playmaker "can't run routes" and is "just a running back." Samuel's status is still in doubt for this week's game after hurting his shoulder last week, but it would be surprising if he couldn't give it a go.

Either way, Gardner-Johnson is going to have his hands full with the likes of Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle in the passing game, and Christian McCaffrey near the line of scrimmage. Niners quarterback Brock Purdy has to do a better job of protecting the football after letting defenders get their hands on multiple throws against the Packers last week, but the Lions have given up over 400 yards in each playoff game so far. Can Gardner-Johnson get his hands on a pass and make a game-changing play? If the Lions hope to advance again, they better hope so.