Saturday night's Detroit Lions game was pretty much a perfect summary of what we have seen all season long. Calvin Johnson was his usual amazing self, putting up big enough numbers to break Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record. The offense was able to put up big numbers in general, but it struggled to convert all those yards (522 in total) into touchdowns. On defense, the Lions got burned early and couldn't get off the field when they needed to the most in the fourth quarter. Finally, there were a couple gaffes on special teams by Stefan Logan. All of this resulted in yet another loss, as the Atlanta Falcons won by a score of 31-18.
The same ol' story for the Lions began on the game's opening drive. The Lions took the ball after winning the coin toss and promptly went three-and-out despite needing only 2 yards to move the chains on third down. The Lions defense at least responded by getting a stop, but it was a disappointing way to start the game.
The Lions continued the same ol' story by letting a big pass to Johnson go to waste thanks to a turnover on their next drive. Matthew Stafford found Johnson for a gain of 49 yards on third-and-2, but Mikel Leshoure fumbled the ball away to the Falcons on the very next play. This gave Atlanta all of the momentum, and Matt Ryan and company quickly capitalized. On just the fourth play of the next drive, Ryan hit Roddy White for a 44-yard touchdown pass on third-and-1. Chris Houston got burned on the play, and now the Falcons had a 7-0 lead.
Detroit bounced back from this ugly sequence of events with a solid drive that was jump-started by a 13-yard run by Logan, an 8-yard run by Mike Thomas on an end-around and an 18-yard pass to Johnson. The Lions picked up another first down a few plays later on a key third-down conversion by Brian Robiskie, but that was it for the drive. The Lions had to settle for a field goal, which is something we've seen far too many times this season.
The Falcons answered right back with another touchdown. Ryan again moved the Falcons right down the field, and White scored his second touchdown of the game on a perfect wide receiver screen. He ran down the field with nobody in his way and made the score 14-3 in Atlanta's favor.
Although the next Lions drive came to a close with a punt, they at least managed to flip the field position thanks to a 20-yard pass to Johnson. The Falcons took over just inside their own 20, and they got backed up all the way to the 14 on third down thanks to a sack by Lawrence Jackson and Ndamukong Suh. The Lions took over after the three-and-out at their own 41 since Logan accidentally signaled for a fair catch. He tried to take off running, but it was clear he called for a fair catch, and the play was immediately blown dead after he caught the ball.
Despite the special teams misstep, the Lions still had outstanding field position. They appeared to be in position to cut into the Falcons' lead again after Johnson moved the chains on third-and-3, but he had the ball knocked loose before he went down. The Falcons recovered the fumble and returned it to the Detroit 40, putting them in position to score. And score they did. On the seventh play of the next possession, Ryan found Julio Jones in the back right corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. Jones somehow managed to catch the ball and get two feet down inbounds, and now the Lions were really in trouble with the scoreboard reading 21-3.
Although they only had 1:17 on the clock, the Lions did manage to get more points before halftime. Stafford hit Johnson for a gain of 22 yards, and he found Kris Durham for 14 and 18 yards. After the 18-yard pass to Durham, the Lions took their third and final timeout with 7 seconds left. Since they were at the 20-yard line, I thought they had time for one shot at the end zone, but Jim Schwartz sent out the field-goal unit instead. Jason Hanson converted from 38 yards out, making this a 21-6 game at halftime.
The Lions came out roaring to start the second half. The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense responded with its best drive of the game. Stafford found Will Heller for 12 yards, Leshoure for 9, Thomas for 5 and Johnson for 14. Stafford was spreading the ball around, and a pass to Logan on third-and-4 set up first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Leshoure scored on the very next play, and now the Lions were only down by one score.
After getting another quick stop, the Lions were really in business. Leshoure got the Lions some room to work with after the drive started on the Detroit 15, and Johnson followed that up with a 26-yard gain. Johnson then went for 21 yards just two plays later, giving the Lions a first down at the Atlanta 17. The Lions ended up getting the ball down to the 2-yard line, where they faced fourth-and-goal. Ford Field was buzzing with Johnson on the verge of breaking Rice's record, and fans were calling for the Lions to go for it. Schwartz opted for a field goal instead yet again, and this sort of let the wind out of their sails. Hanson did make the 20-yard kick, but the Lions missed their chance to tie things up.
The Falcons took advantage of still having the lead and went right down the field for another touchdown. The story of this drive was the Lions' inability to get a stop on third down. Ryan found White for 15 yards on third-and-4 and followed that up with passes of 12 and 14 yards to Jones. After a pass to Jones went for a loss of 7 yards, Ryan dug the Falcons out of the hole they were suddenly in by scrambling for 16 yards. He then found Tony Gonzalez for a third-down conversion and White for 14 more yards. On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Ryan hit Michael Palmer for a touchdown.
Any real chance of the Lions coming back to win this game was essentially eliminated on the one and only play of their next drive. Stafford was locked in on Johnson with the record only 4 yards away, and he made a terrible pass that was intercepted by Asante Samuel. The Falcons took over at the Detroit 42, and after a 22-yard run by Michael Turner started the drive, a Matt Bryant field goal finished it. The defense held tough after the Falcons had second-and-goal from the 2-yard line, but the damage was done with the Lions now down 31-16.
The Lions opened their next drive with a 26-yard pass to Johnson. This play broke Rice's receiving record, and Ford Field gave Johnson a much-deserved standing ovation. Stafford then proceeded to throw three consecutive incompletions. He found Tony Scheffler for 14 yards on fourth down, though, keeping the drive alive. Eventually, after passes of 16, 10 and 9 yards to Joique Bell and an 18-yarder to Scheffler, the Lions had second-and-1 from the 2-yard line. They had three cracks at the end zone, and each one was another Stafford incompletion. The incompletion on fourth down was thanks in part to the umpire getting in the way of Heller's route, but it was really inexcusable for the Lions to not get a touchdown.
While the Lions did tackle Turner for a loss of 2 yards and a safety on the very next play, any shot at a miracle rally was killed by Logan. On the ensuing free kick, he took a knee at the Lions 4-yard line. No, that's not a misprint. Logan evidently thought he was in the end zone rather than at the 4-yard line. Why? I have no idea, but his lack of awareness put the Lions 96 yards away from the end zone. Stafford did pad his stats a bit by getting the Lions to midfield before time ran out, but it was just a really stupid way for the game to come to an end. The Lions lost by a final score of 31-18, and Schwartz reacted as such after Logan's costly mistake:
Aside from Johnson and Stafford (for most of the game), this was indeed another facepalm-worthy performance by the Lions. This was a game that they could have won had they not left so many points on the field, but I suppose we really shouldn't expect anything else at this point. The Lions have done this kind of thing all season long, and it's why they are now 4-11 and on a seven-game losing streak.
The Lions will have one last chance to pick up their fifth win next Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears. They can put an end to their losing streak and avoid going winless in the division with a win, but as we've learned the last couple months, that's easier said than done.