The Lions have done nothing to dissuade us of this intangible but real observation: They don't know how to win. They've been within five points of their opponents in the fourth quarter of all nine of their losses this season. Nose tackle Corey Williams and cornerback Chris Houston reacted emotionally after this latest loss. But they were essentially right to point out that in critical situations, the Lions don't know what to do, how to set aside adversity or what it takes to make that final sprint to the finish line. (Houston's suggestion that the team has "little heart" was a bit over the top. I would suggest it's more a matter of "little experience at winning.") There is no easy fix here. Ultimately, what you need is a player or a group of players stepping forward and demonstrating on a consistent basis how to rise to the occasion. A sack on third down. Forcing a turnover. Breaking tackles. If you're a young player on the Lions' roster, a good place to start is by watching defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
I'm not sure if any scheme would have stopped Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who survived a five-hit first half to finish the game with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. But it's worth noting that the Lions didn't really come after him from a blitz perspective. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions were in their four-man rush on nearly 80 percent of Brady's dropbacks. In the second half, Brady completed 10 of 11 passes for three touchdowns against the Lions' standard rush. I would understand if the Lions weren't confident enough in their coverage to utilize the blitz more often, but on Thursday, it was clear their base defense wasn't up to stopping him.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught five passes, giving him 55 for the season and a new Lions single-season record for receptions in a season by a tight end. But it was one catch he wasn't credited for that proved a huge turning point in the game. Referee Ron Winter's crew called Pettigrew for offensive pass interference after his 21-yard reception in the fourth quarter converted a third-and-5 situation, wiping out the catch and ultimately forcing the Lions to punt as they trailed 31-24. I thought the call was marginal at best, and the Patriots put the game out of reach on the ensuing drive.
And here is one issue I don't get:
Lions coach Jim Schwartz was obviously upset about the call against Pettigrew, as well as a pass interference penalty on linebacker DeAndre Levy that gave the Patriots a third-down conversion in the second quarter. Here's what Schwartz said: "The fact is, when you're a 2-9 football team, you're not going to get those calls. When you're a 9-2 team, you're going to get those calls. That's the way the NFL is. It's close games and we don't have the reputation of being a team that makes those plays. We need to make those plays and then complain about officiating." I agree with part of what Schwartz said. The Lions shouldn't expect to get marginal calls. But I don't think it's because they are 2-9 this season. It's because they continue to play sloppy, undisciplined football. Questionable calls aside, the Lions made plenty of unambiguous mistakes Thursday. If officials are inclined to be influenced in any way, it's for that reason. Penalties and mistakes beget more penalties and mistakes.