The theme of the second half of the 2013 season for the Detroit Lions was their inability to protect a lead in the fourth quarter. Fittingly, they closed out 2013 by failing to protect a lead in the fourth quarter. They were up 13-7 at one point in the final game at the Metrodome, but the Minnesota Vikings came back and won by a score of 14-13. This means that the Lions finished with six losses in their final seven games despite holding a fourth-quarter lead in all of them, and it means that the Lions finished 2013 with a 7-9 record.
Believe it or not, but the Lions won the coin toss and deferred to start this game, so the Vikings got the ball first. They picked up a single first down before having to punt, which would become a theme for both teams. The Lions answered with a single first down of their own before having to punt, and it was more of the same on the Vikings' next drive. The Lions then took over and didn't even bother with moving the chains, as they went three-and-out.
The streak of punts to start the game was broken by the Vikings with the first quarter coming to a close. On only the second play of their next possession, the Vikings ran a reverse that appeared to be set up for Cordarrelle Patterson to throw the ball. He decided to tuck it and run, and that turned out to be a great decision. Thanks to poor pursuit angles and some nice blocks, Patterson went 50 yards for a touchdown, putting the Vikings up by a score of 7-0.
The Lions responded with another three-and-out, and it looked like the Vikings were going to add to their lead. They drove down the field with ease and had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. On first down, Jared Allen actually entered the game as a tight end, and he was wide open in the end zone. Matt Cassel missed him, though, and Cassel was actually picked off by Louis Delmas on third-and-goal.
Following yet another Lions three-and-out, the Vikings took over at their own 5-yard line because of a great punt by Sam Martin. Minnesota again put together a decent drive, but it stalled at the Detroit 39. Rather than try a long field goal or simply try to move the chains on fourth down, the Vikings punted the ball away.
The Lions managed to pick up a couple first downs on their next drive, but it stalled at their own 38. This led to another Martin punt, and he once again had it bounce perfectly inside the 5-yard line. It was downed at the 5, but a penalty on Micheal Spurlock for illegal touching turned the great punt into a touchback.
After a quick Vikings three-and-out where Detroit used a couple timeouts, the Lions got the ball back at their own 29 with 43 seconds left. They tried to get something going before halftime by being aggressive, but Matthew Stafford was sacked on the very first play of the possession, which basically brought the first half to a close with the Lions trailing by 7 points.
Things went much better for the offense as the second half began. The Lions put together a 9-play drive that spanned 85 yards and ended with a touchdown. A 24-yard pass to Nate Burleson on third-and-4 kept the drive alive, and Reggie Bush caught a pass, broke a tackle and went 19 yards for a touchdown on another third-and-4. This tied the game up at 7.
A Delmas sack led to a Vikings punt, and the Lions again put together a solid drive, thanks in part to an untimely offside penalty for Minnesota. The Lions faced fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 34, and rather than go for it, they tried a 52-yard field goal. David Akers sent it wide left, but an offside penalty moved the chains. The Lions were unable to turn this into a touchdown despite getting down to the 3-yard line, but Akers did make his second attempt on this drive, this time from 25 yards out.
The Vikings' second-half struggles continued with Matt Asiata fumbling the ball away to the Lions on only the second play of their next drive. Nick Fairley forced the fumble, which was recovered by Ashlee Palmer at the Minnesota 29. Despite Stafford's best efforts to take the Lions out of field goal range with an awful intentional grounding penalty, the Lions came away with points on a 53-yard kick by Akers that gave the Lions a 13-7 lead.
A good challenge by the Lions got an 18-yard pass for the Vikings overturned and ruled incomplete. Minnesota then proceeded to go three-and-out, and it looked like the Lions were going to get great field position after the punt. However, Theo Riddick was flagged for clipping on the return, putting the Lions at their own 23 instead of near midfield. The Lions continued going backward with losses of 3 and 13 yards on first and second down, leading to a three-and-out and a punt that was returned 50 yards to the 8-yard line by Marcus Sherels. Two plays later, Cassel found Patterson in the end zone for a touchdown, putting the Vikings on top by a score of 14-13.
The Lions were able to get all the way down to the Minnesota 39 on their next drive, which nearly got them in field goal range. However, they lost 2 yards on first down and were unable to gain even a single yard on their next two plays. As a result, facing fourth-and-12 at the 41, the Lions decided to punt the ball away despite having only 1 timeout remaining. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be a bad move, as the Vikings simply ran the final 4:53 off the clock. The Lions spent their final timeout right before Asiata sealed the game with a 39-yard run. The Vikings simply took a knee on first, second and third down to end the game and send out the Metrodome in style with a 14-13 victory.
With the Lions losing again and finishing 7-9, it seems inevitable that a coaching search is up next for them. This team collapsed down the stretch for the second year in a row, and firing Jim Schwartz is simply the sane thing to do at this point. Here's to hoping that is exactly what happens and 2014 is a much better year for this franchise.