Tell me if you've heard this before: The Detroit Lions had a lead late in Sunday's game and needed the defense to come up with a stop after the offense struggled to give them any cushion whatsoever. Despite playing well for most of the game, the defense collapsed late. The opponent took the lead and the Lions couldn't make a comeback, resulting in a loss.
That was the story of many of the Lions' losses last year, and it played out again on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. The Lions were on top 21-13 at one point, but with the offense failing to add on to that lead, the Cardinals were able to come back. After a couple field goals and a late touchdown, the Cardinals were on top, and they went on to win by a score of 25-21.
This game opened with a pretty uneventful first quarter, at least when it came to the scoreboard. The Lions' first drive was immediately killed by Brandon Pettigrew missing a block on an end-around. Between that and an illegal substitution penalty on the Lions, it's no surprise they went three-and-out to start the game.
The Cardinals picked up back-to-back first downs on their first two plays of the game, but that's all they managed to get. A 1-yard run and a couple incompletions later, it was punt time, and the Lions took over at their own 6-yard line.
The Lions passed their way out of the bad field position slowly but surely. The Lions had a lot of success with underneath stuff, and they eventually found themselves in Arizona territory. The drive stalled at the 34-yard line, though, and David Akers missed a 52-yard field goal attempt wide left. Akers got another shot thanks to a running into the kicker penalty, but he pushed his 47-yard attempt wide right.
After a pair of punts between the two teams, the Cardinals struck first (in the second quarter) by using good field position to get a 47-yard field goal. They took over near midfield after a 47-yard Sam Martin punt (the Lions couldn't get out of the shadow of their own end zone), but the Lions' defense came up with a stop by holding Arizona to the Jay Feely kick.
On the next drive, the Lions got on the scoreboard on only their third play. Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson with a perfect pass in traffic on a slant, and Johnson did the rest. He outran the defense and went 72 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, the Lions took a 7-3 lead.
The Cardinals didn't waste much time in responding with a touchdown of their own. A couple of solid gains by Rashard Mendenhall got Arizona going, and Carson Palmer took it from there. He found Larry Fitzgerald for 22 yards and a wide open Andre Ellington on the very next play for 36 yards and a touchdown. Now Arizona was back on top, 10-7.
The Lions got the ball back with poor field position yet again thanks to a penalty on the ensuing kick return. With third-and-3 from their own 15, they needed a big play, and Reggie Bush delivered with a catch that he turned into a gain of 26 yards. He hurt his left knee on the play, but he returned on the next drive. On this drive, the Lions turned the big completion into points with Stafford continuing to spread the ball around. Joique Bell and Nate Burleson both had receptions as the Lions moved down the field, and Bell picked up 20 yards on a run. Following a couple Arizona penalties, the Lions got back into the end zone on a 3-yard pass to Johnson in the back left corner.
Arizona tried to add points to cut into the deficit before halftime, but the Lions came up with a stop. It seemed like they had time to build their lead (53 seconds and all three timeouts), but they instead elected to take their 14-10 lead into halftime by running out the clock.
The Cardinals opened the second half with a single first down before being stopped. The Lions should have taken over with decent field position (by their standards, anyway), but Micheal Spurlock took the punt backward for a loss of 6 yards. This put the Lions at their own 6-yard line, and the Cardinals got amazing field position after recovering a Bush fumble two plays into the next drive. Bush didn't get the exchange cleanly on a handoff from Stafford, and the Cardinals fell on the ball at the 7-yard line. The defense came up with a huge stop to limit Arizona to only a field goal, but it was still a rough sequence of events for the Lions.
The Lions followed up their fumble with 3 straight incompletions for a three-and-out. They had the ball for all of 14 seconds before punting it away. The Cardinals got the ball at their own 28, and they quickly got into Detroit territory. On third-and-4 at the 38-yard line, though, Ndamukong Suh forced Palmer into a bad throw. It went right to DeAndre Levy, who picked off the pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown. There were no flags this week, and now the Lions had a 21-13 lead.
On the next drive, the Cardinals found a lot of success moving the ball on first and second down. Once the Lions finally got it to third down, Arizona couldn't do anything, as was the case all day. The Cardinals' drought of third-down conversions continued, as they had to settle for another Feely field goal. This was again the case on the next Arizona drive, which came after another Lions three-and-out. Arizona couldn't move the chains on third down, and a Feely field goal got the lead down to 21-19. (Before that Feely field goal made it 21-19, by the way, Ziggy Ansah forced a fumble that was recovered by Willie Young. Unfortunately, a penalty on Young for illegal use of hands negated it. A roughing the passer penalty on the very next play got the Cardinals moving and led to the field goal.)
The Lions finally showed some life on offense when they took over the ball shortly after the start of the fourth quarter. Bell, who replaced Bush for good (likely because of the knee injury rather than the fumble) at this point, got things going with a catch for 9 yards and a run for 7 yards. After a 10-yard pass to Bell and an 18-yarder to Johnson, the Lions were in Arizona territory. The drive stalled, though, and the Cardinals blocked a 47-yard Akers field goal attempt. Justin Bethel ran right by Israel Idonije to block the kick (see below), and the Cardinals took over at their own 42-yard line.
The reason that kick was blocked (note No. 77) pic.twitter.com/VyFfhtWC3R— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) September 15, 2013
Despite having good field position, Arizona came away with no points on their next possession. They did finally move the chains on third down, but they could only do it once. On their second attempt, Michael Floyd might have caught the ball, but it was ruled incomplete and there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it after the Cardinals challenged the ruling.
The Lions continued to struggle on offense and went three-and-out at their own 8-yard line. This put the defense in another tough situation, even after Martin boomed a 58-yard punt, and this time, there was no big stop with their backs against the wall. Thanks to an obvious Bill Bentley pass interference on third-and-8, the Cardinals got the ball moved all the way down to the 1-yard line. They punched it in two plays later on a run by Mendenhall to take a 25-21 lead (the 2-point conversion was no good).
With 1:59 to go, the Lions had plenty of time to make a comeback, and things were looking good after Pettigrew made up for multiple drops with a ridiculous catch for a gain of 17 yards. The Lions were unable to move the chains again, though. After two incompletions, passes to Burleson went for only 6 and 3 yards on third and fourth down. The Lions turned the ball over on downs, partly because there was no flag thrown on second down for this:
Johnson dropped the pass, and a penalty could have potentially altered how that final sequence played out. It doesn't matter now, though, because the Lions couldn't move the chains and lost 25-21 as a result.
This was a tough one to swallow considering how well the defense played up until that final drive. The Lions looked like they were going to pick up a big win on the road, but now they will have to try to rebound from this loss next week when they go on the road again to take on the Washington Redskins.