Heading into its Monday Night football matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, many people still believed the Lions were the front-runners to win the NFC North Division and head to the playoffs. After a 18-16 loss to the Super Bowl Champion Ravens, that might not be the case anymore. The Lions (7-7) no longer have control of their own playoff destiny thanks to their struggles in the second half of the season.
The Lions could actually be eliminated next week if both the Bears and Packers win their games. That spells trouble for Detroit as both teams play in very winnable games. Desperate for wins in its final two weeks, the Lions will most likely need to win both against the Giants and Vikings.
Turnovers will kill you
Among the Lions’ biggest problems this seasons, turnovers have been an issue. The Lions have turned the ball over 30 times this season, with 20 of them belonging to quarterback Matthew Stafford. With the Lions down just two points last night, a last-minute drive ultimately failed when Stafford threw his third interception of the game.
Stafford didn’t play well, finishing 18-for-34 passing for 235 yards and a touchdown to go with his three picks. If he would have thrown only two interceptions, who knows how the game would have ended. With two bad weeks in a row, Stafford will really need to step up if the Lions hope to somehow make the playoffs.
Calvin Johnson had nearly 100 yards, but was still pretty quiet. He had three big drops, two of which that would have gone for 20+ yards each and one in the end zone. Reggie Bush returned after being scratched last week with an injury and rushed for 86 yards and a first quarter touchdown. Joseph Fauria caught a touchdown pass with a little over two minutes to go to give the Lions a one point lead; one that it could not hang onto.
The Ravens were led by their kicker. Yep, their second-year kicker Justin Tucker. Not only did his SIX field goals beat the Lions, but they also ended my Fantasy Football season. Sad stuff. Tucker has now made 33 straight field goals dating back to last season. His final field goal winded up being a game-winning 61-yarder.
The Lions didn’t play poorly defensively, allowing just 305 yards and no touchdowns. When a Lions’ offense fails to score more than 16 points, chances are it probably won’t win the game.
There was a lot of gripe about the pass interference calls against the Lions. I’m not sure I disagreed with any of the calls, though. The one in particular was unnecessary roughness when Louis Delmas chose to go for the big hit instead of play the ball. If he would have looked up at the ball, it would have been an easy interception in 2-on-1 coverage. Instead, it gave the Ravens a 10-yard penalty and a first down. You can’t do things like this if you hope to be a playoff team.
What’s the problem?
The Lions undoubtedly have a ton of talent on its team. Stafford, while inconsistent and turnover-prone, has proven to be an effective passer in the NFL. Calvin Johnson is one of the best, if not the best receiver in the league. The running back duo of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell has been really productive this year, with both backs nearing 1,000 total yards on the season. The Lions defense is improved this year, thanks to its physical defensive line. All in all, talent is not the problem for this Detroit team.
So what is keeping this team with all the necessary pieces from becoming a playoff contender? Turnovers and penalties have killed the team, but ultimately it comes down to coaching. The Lions are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Well, yeah. The fact is, the Lions haven’t done that. We can play the “what if” game all day, but good teams win those close games. In nearly every close game they’ve played in, they have come up short in the end. No matter what struggles the team had, a lot of the blame has to go on Jim Schwartz. If your team is consistently dropping close games, then something has to change.
Just five weeks ago, the Lions were all but a lock to make the playoffs in the weakest division in the NFL. Now, after losing four of its last five games, it seems unlikely that they will make it. It will need a combination of Green Bay and Chicago losses as the Lions have dropped to third place in the NFC North.
With Calvin Johnson’s 98 yards, he became the first wide receiver to surpass 5,000 yards in a three-year span. He joins Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only receivers to have more than 1,400 yards in three consecutive seasons.
Matthew Stafford become the first quarterback in Lions’ history to have three seasons in which he passed for 4,000 yards.
Reggie Bush became the first Lions’ running back since James Stewart in 2000 to gain more than 1,400 total yards in a single season.
The Lions now rely on the Packers’ and Bears’ opponents to beat them if they hope to make the playoffs. The Packers will play the Steelers next week and the Bears have the Eagles. The teams meet in the final week of the season. The Lions will host the Giants next week before traveling to Minnesota in the final week of the season. This time next week, the Lions could be eliminated from the playoffs. It should be interesting to see the worst division in football battle it out for its playoff spot.