Lions season on the brink after another loss
December, 17, 2013
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesTurnovers and drops -- even by Calvin Johnson -- resulted in another late loss for the Lions.
DETROIT -- The mantras seem empty now, feel more hollow than before. All week the Detroit Lions talked about more focus, more urgency and how Monday night was supposed to be the start of a final push to the playoffs.
And it might be a push that ended before it really started, a playoff run halted by a combination of the foot of Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker and the same follies that plagued the Lions from the moment they started to look like an actual playoff contender.
Monday night, in an 18-16 loss to Baltimore that pushed the Lions from leading the NFC North to third place in the division, had all the familiar refrains. Too many turnovers. Bad decisions. The inability to finish a game they led in the fourth quarter.
And add, after all that talk, the feeling of a lack of offensive urgency. It was noticeable from high atop Ford Field as Detroit had drive after drive stall. And it was evident from at least one player, too, that the Lions didn’t have the necessary urgency to win what was essentially a playoff game.
“Nah, nah, it wasn’t,” running back Reggie Bush said of the urgency being there. “It was pretty evident. When we needed to make plays, we just didn’t have it and we got to do a better job. Obviously, turnovers hurt us. I can’t really speak for the defensive side of the ball.
“Third downs, we had some third-down conversions that we should have came up with, that we can do easy, that we could have made easily. We just didn’t come up with plays and I don’t know.”
That -- the lack of urgency from the offense after it was preached so much by offensive players -- might be the most baffling of all. It's the most glaring piece of evidence something isn’t working in Detroit right now. All week the Lions talked of making plays. Of knowing what a win would mean or what a loss could do.
They could dream about the win, but the loss is the reality -- a loss that came after Detroit’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown.
The offense, other than two drives, couldn’t do much at all.
Detroit now has four losses in its past five games. It committed three or more turnovers in each loss. The Lions had fourth-quarter leads disappear in all of them, and now they have a head coach, Jim Schwartz, potentially two games from not being the head coach anymore.
“The only assurance we need is we have two games to play and we’re one down in our division,” Schwartz said. “That’s the only thing we need to worry about. That’s the only thing that we need to concern ourselves with right now.
“We need to find a way to come back with a win against the Giants, go on the road and beat the Vikings and let the dust settle and see where that takes us.”
Right now, that place is not a good one. Even with two wins, they'd need help to win the division.
The Lions said all the things they are supposed to say after a devastating loss -- that they will bounce back and that they will be resilient. Right guard Larry Warford said receiver Nate Burleson preached many of those things to Detroit after the game.
Except they haven’t shown that resiliency -- the kind that won them games in the first half of the season -- since October. Inside the locker room after the game there was no loud music, just players talking in hushed tones about opportunities lost and needing help instead of being able to help themselves.
“Everybody knew,” Warford said, “that we let this one slip.”
This isn’t the first time Detroit has said that. It has been a theme for these Lions since the fake field goal call gone bad against Pittsburgh in Week 11.
Detroit seemed to lose its momentum then, both in the game and the season. When the fake didn’t work, the Steelers took control in the game. Since then, the Lions have won just once.
For so long this season the Lions had said this team was different, was a new and invigorated group that would not fall to the same struggling ways of so many previous Detroit teams. But the same problems showed up again. Another fourth-quarter lead lost. Another game with three or more turnovers. Another game with three or more drops.
Another opportunity, perhaps the final one for Detroit this season, squandered.
“Some of the stuff that happened to us was just kind of self-inflicted,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
That, the self-inflicted punishment, the mistakes and errors and lost leads, are what took the Lions from potential playoff contenders to within two weeks of having their season end.
And maybe Schwartz, who is now clearly in a situation where his job may be in jeopardy, was prophetic with all of this. At the midway point of the season, with his team doing well, he said over and over that the second half of the season would write the story of these Detroit Lions.
So if this was indeed the beginning of the end for Schwartz and for the Lions' playoff chances, the first scene of the final act had drama like Shakespeare and horror like Wes Craven. It had all the heartache of the middle of a romantic comedy disguised in a 61-yard field goal attempt that some of the Detroit players couldn’t even bring themselves to watch.
And as Tucker’s kick sailed through, as the look on the faces of some of the Lions players turned from celebratory to stunned, for the first time all season this had the feeling of a five-act play that would not have a happy ending.
No, potentially not at all.