Rookie TE Sam LaPorta helps Lions get back on track

NEW ORLEANS -- For Jared Goff, one thing was clear as the Detroit Lions escaped Caesars Superdome with a 33-28 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

"87's pretty good," the Lions quarterback said. "Yes, Sammy can play."

Number 87 is Lions rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who stepped up with a career day when it mattered, helping Detroit (9-3) reach its best 12-game start since 1962 when they began 10-2.

Goff went 9-of-9 for 140 yards and a touchdown while targeting LaPorta against the Saints.

"I thought that Sam LaPorta was huge today for us," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "I thought that he really did make some huge plays."

LaPorta's efforts were needed as he ended with the fifth-most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in a game in the Super Bowl era behind New York Giants' Mark Bavaro (176), Atlanta Falcons' Kyle Pitts (163), Jacksonville's Pete Mitchell (161) and New York's Bob Tucker (150). With that type of performance, it increases the confidence in the offense to throw the ball his way in late-game moments.

"As comfortable as anyone I've played with and for a rookie, it's pretty tremendous. I would compare him directly to what (Amon-Ra St. Brown) was doing as a rookie as far as on the field and off the field and the type of pro he is and knowing his assignments," Goff said of LaPorta. "Rarely has an MA (missed assignment) and rarely does that type of rookie mistake, very rarely, and it's just such a reliable guy and a guy that I count on in those crunch times and I know he's a clutch player."

Despite coming off a Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay, LaPorta entered the week full of confidence after a strong week of practice.

Detroit's coaching staff placed an emphasis on ball security, and the Lions jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game at New Orleans. The hot start included a 13-yard touchdown grab by LaPorta from Goff at 10:24 in the opening quarter.

He also made a wide open 48-yard catch to go over 100 yards in the third then made a key 14-yard catch on a third-and-5 before the end of the third quarter on a scoring drive that set up a Lions field goal once New Orleans was able to get within one score.

LaPorta says he's fueled by how much trust the Lions have in him during those moments.

"I think I'm surrounded by a lot of people. Great teammates, great coaches, great support -- with my family and friends so they just tell me to do what I love. I love playing football and when it's not a chore, it doesn't really feel like a job," LaPorta said. "You're just out there with your buddies running around and yeah, it's great that we're having success. It definitely helps and makes you want to work harder when you're having success and adding value to the team."

Detroit will face the Chicago Bears on the road next week. They'll continue to call LaPorta's number and trust him to deliver.

"If we're gonna lose games, it's gonna be us that's messing it up," he told ESPN. "It always goes back to us and our fundamentals and what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish. We feel like we can address those issues and move forward."