In need of a win to take back control of the NFC North on Monday night, the Detroit Lions came up short despite not allowing a single Baltimore Ravens touchdown. Instead, they gave up 6 field goals, including a 61-yarder in the final minute, to fall by a score of 18-16. The loss means the Lions are now 7-7, and it means a trip to the playoffs is now extremely unlikely for this team.
Believe it or not, but the Lions actually came out playing like their playoff hopes were on the line, because the first drive of the game was outstanding. Joique Bell moved the chains on an early third down by going for 23 yards on a screen pass, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the next third down gave the Lions another first down. They quickly took advantage with a 17-yard pass to Nate Burleson before Reggie Bush ran into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown on the very next play.
The defense did its part by forcing a quick three-and-out on Baltimore's first drive of the game. A good punt combined with a holding penalty on the return backed the Lions up to their own 14, but it didn't matter. They were able to get into Ravens territory after only a few plays thanks in part to a 19-yard run by Bush. It looked like they were going to put more points on the board when Stafford found a wide open Calvin Johnson on third-and-15, but the ball was dropped. This was the first of many brutal mistakes for the Lions on offense in this game, and this one likely cost them points.
The Ravens capitalized on the mistake by putting together a 15-play drive that took 6:25 off the clock. The Lions were unable to get off the field on an early third down, and Baltimore slowly but surely worked its way down the field. The Lions did finally come up with a stop on third-and-8 at the 11-yard line, but the Ravens converted a 29-yard field goal to make this a 7-3 game.
After the two teams traded punts, the Lions continued to shoot themselves in the foot with mistakes. The first mistake on their next drive was an illegal substitution penalty that backed the Lions up 5 yards on second-and-3. Then, on third-and-4, Stafford missed an open Johnson, leading to another punt.
Once again, the Ravens took advantage of the Lions' mistakes by putting together a drive that ended with a field goal. This time, the Ravens moved down the field thanks in part to a questionable face mask penalty on Jonte Green and an even more questionable pass interference penalty on Don Carey on the very next play. The penalties put the Ravens on the 10-yard line, but the Lions defense came up with a stop to hold Baltimore to a field goal.
The Lions offense continued making mistakes on its final drive of the first half. Stafford threw a bad pass that fell incomplete on a screen to Bell, and Johnson dropped another open pass on second-and-9 a few plays later. Then, on third down, Stafford was hit as he threw the ball and it came up short of Johnson. Once again, the Lions were forced to punt the ball away.
Baltimore responded with its third field goal of the half to take a 9-7 lead into the locker rooms. Joe Flacco threw passes that went for 18 and 21 yards to start the drive, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Louis Delmas on a third down put the Ravens in better position for a field goal. Justin Tucker then converted a kick from 32 yards out to bring the first half to a close.
The Lions got off to a good start in the second half by forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive. After taking over at their own 37, things were looking good for the Lions with Johnson making a nice catch for 18 yards. The Lions got all the way down to the Baltimore 31, where they faced third-and-1. Instead of running the ball, which had worked quite well on the previous two plays, the Lions emptied the backfield and Stafford's pass was tipped and intercepted. This was merely the latest wasted opportunity for the offense.
As was the case in the first half, the Ravens turned the Lions' offensive mistakes into a field goal. This time, the Ravens got a big gain of 24 yards on a pass to Marlon Brown, but the drive stalled after. Green made a nice play to break up Flacco's pass on third down, and Tucker's 49-yard field goal was good to give the Ravens a 12-7 lead.
The offense finally put some points on the board on the Lions' next drive. Johnson went for 37 yards on the second play of the possession to get things going, and the Lions picked up a big third-down conversion when Theo Riddick made a great catch. They were unable to move the chains on the next third down because Kris Durham was clearly held in the end zone. There should have been a flag for pass interference, but instead there was nothing. As a result, the Lions had to settle for a 40-yard David Akers field goal that made this a 2-point game.
After a 19-yard pass to Torrey Smith on the second play of Baltimore's next drive, it looked like the Ravens were going to increase their lead. It especially looked like this was going to happen after the Ravens had second-and-3 near midfield. However, Ndamukong Suh put pressure on Flacco and Glover Quin knocked the ball out of his hand. Baltimore recovered, but the sack killed the drive and forced the Ravens to punt.
The Lions did move the chains on a 23-yard pass to Burleson on their next drive, but that's all they got. After incompletions on second and third down, the Lions had to punt the ball away, but the Ravens answered with a three-and-out. As a result, the Lions got the ball back at their own 25, but Stafford threw it right to the defense on third-and-2 for his second interception of the game. The Lions defense held and forced another three-and-out after the turnover, but Tucker added a 53-yard field goal to make this a 15-10 game in favor of the Ravens.
Finally, with the game on the line, the Lions offense woke up. Stafford moved the Lions down the field through the air with passes of 9, 21, 5, 14 and 18 yards. Then, on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 14, Stafford found Joseph Fauria in the end zone for a touchdown. The Lions now had the lead, but they were unable to convert the 2-point conversion. As a result, they were only up 16-15, which would prove to be important as the game came to a close.
With the clock running down to under a minute to go, the Ravens moved the ball to the Detroit 43 and were stopped on third down. Surprisingly, they simply ran a draw on third-and-10, setting up Tucker for a 61-yard field goal attempt. The Ravens made it seem like they were going to go for it at first, but they called a timeout after letting the clock run for a bit. Yes, it took the Ravens to stop the clock, as Jim Schwartz apparently decided to ignore the fact that he had all three of his timeouts left. In any case, Tucker just barely made the ensuing 61-yard attempt, silencing Ford Field and giving the Ravens an 18-16 lead in the process.
The game essentially came to an end on the very next play from scrimmage. Stafford was picked off yet again (by Matt Elam of all people), giving the Ravens the ball and a chance to just run off the final 30 seconds. They did just that with a 19-yard run by Ray Rice. Again, Schwartz didn't even bother using any of his timeouts, meaning this game and likely the Lions' playoff hopes came to an end with the Ravens winning by a score of 18-16.
On Sunday, the Lions will play host to the New York Giants in a game that could very well end up being meaningless for them. Their chances of making the playoffs are quite low now, and at this point I'm more concerned about the coaching situation than Detroit somehow sneaking into the postseason. That's sadly the current state of this franchise.