Starting off the first half of the season with a surprising 6-2 record, the Detroit Lions had hoped to begin the second half with a win yesterday in Arizona. Only problem with that is the fact that Detroit laid an egg out in the desert and got beat 31-21 in an all-around ugly game. Five turnovers by the Lions was the exact opposite of how they got to 6-2 in the first place, so that was one of the biggest reasons for this loss. One of the other main reasons Detroit lost was because of this disturbing stat: 8 rushes, -18 yards. That's no misprint. Detroit actually rushed for -18 yards. So much for that balanced offense thing that had been working so well.
I'll admit, I was sipping the Kool-Aid going into this game. Detroit was off to a 6-2 start and things were going great. I knew in the back of my head that this would be an important game, but I really didn't expect the Lions to lose. Even when they trailed to Arizona in the second half, I still figured the Lions could make a comeback, especially with the high number of mistakes the Cardinals were making themselves. All of that hope proved to be for nothing as the Kool-Aid I drank on Sunday turned out to be stale, and we all got a harsh reality check as the Lions dropped to 6-3. Here's how it happened.
Believe it or not, Detroit was in full control of this game at the start. After forcing a Kurt Warner interception of the game's first drive, the Lions had the ball on the Arizona 25 thanks to a great return on the pick by Kenoy Kennedy. With the short field, the Lions took only 3 plays to get into the endzone, with the touchdown coming on a 4-yard run by Kevin Jones. The quick score put the Lions on top 7-0, and another defensive stand by the defense gave Jon Kitna and company the ball back with a chance to start building up that lead.
It was at this point when things went downhill quickly. Kitna was picked off on the first play of this drive, giving the Cards the ball on the Detroit 13. Even so, the defense still managed to hold them even after they got inside the 5, so only a field goal was put on the board. The mistake wasn't fully avenged, but the Lions did escape the worst of it by keeping Arizona out of the endzone.
Neither offense could do anything right after the field goal as the two teams would combine for 5 straight punts, with all but one coming from three and outs. That changed, though, after a Steve Breaston punt return broke the game wide open. Following a Lions three and out, on the 5th consecutive punt to end a drive, Breaston returned the ball 46 yards down to the Detroit 13-yard line. Three plays later, Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald from 1 yard out to give Arizona a 10-7 lead. The special teams play by the former Michigan returner proved to be huge as it gave the Arizona offense a boost. From then on, the game was in their favor.
Following another three and out by the Lions, Arizona got the ball back with around five and a half minutes to go in the half and almost ran out the entire clock before getting into the endzone again. This time it wasn't a punt return or anything of that sort that got the offense going as Arizona simply moved the ball down the field 90 yards thanks to the intermediate passing game. All day Cardinals receivers were open on short to medium range out passes, and Kurt Warner just picked apart the defense with them. That is the one problem with the Cover 2 defense. It is designed to be a bend but don't break system, and just as we saw with Philadelphia and Washington, Arizona used short dump off passes and medium range passes in front of the secondary to move the ball. It worked well, that's for sure, as Arizona eventually scored another touchdown, this time on a 2-yard pass from Tim Rattay to Leonard Pope, making it 17-7 Cardinals at the half.
Opening up the second half down by 10, I really felt that the first drive of the half for the Lions was the most important when it came to how the rest of the game would go. If Detroit could score and cut down the lead, then it would mean that their offense finally broke out of its drought and the lead was cut down in a big way. Knowing that the opening drive of the half was important, Jon Kitna came out firing. He was finally able to start hitting his receivers again, and after converting a couple third downs, Detroit was into Arizona territory just like that. With the offense clicking and a touchdown looking imminent, I figured this would be the start to the comeback. Well, instead of a comeback, Detroit got the shaft.
Shaun McDonald got the ball on an end around type of play, and was tackled for a loss on the play. As he was being brought down, the ball came loose for a fumble, but it was after his arm hit the ground, meaning he should've been down by contact. Instead, the referees ruled that it was a fumble, and even after challenging the play was upheld. I don't know how in the world that was possible when it was clear as day that McDonald was down, but that was the call nonetheless. I feel like this was the true turning point in the game. Despite their struggles in the first half, the Lions only trailed by 10 at this point in the game, and with the way the offense had been playing, they would've at least gotten a field goal out of the drive, which would've cut the lead down to a touchdown. With the turnover, though, Arizona got the ball back with a chance to put the Lions in a big hole.
Putting the Lions away fully wouldn't be done on this drive since Detroit kept fighting back even as the clock ticked down, but Arizona sure made it a lot harder for a comeback when they scored a touchdown after only 5 plays. The Cardinals moved the ball easily with the momentum from the fumble and Kurt Warner found Leonard Pope for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 24-17 Arizona. There's no doubt that the fumble changed this game, and I still am angry about it. I don't want to take anything away from Arizona as they played a much better game than Detroit, and the Lions had their chances to make a comeback, but I still keep going back to that fumble.
Knowing that a touchdown was necessary now that the lead was up to 17 points, Jon Kitna drove the Lions down the field on all passing plays. Kitna found Roy Williams in the endzone for a 7-yard touchdown to cap off the drive, cutting the lead back down to 10 points as the end of the third quarter was nearing.
In typical Lions fashion, my hopes of a comeback were fully raised after Kurt Warner fumbled the ball away to Detroit on the next drive. With a full quarter to go and only down by 10, I just assumed that the Lions would make a comeback to get the win. Once again, I should never have assumed, especially with the Lions. Two plays into the next drive Jon Kitna fumbled the snap and Arizona recovered, getting the ball back. Three plays later, it was Warner to Fitzgerald again, this time from 20 yards out, to make the score 31-14 in favor of the Cards.
After the TD by Arizona, the game got beyond ugly. The next four drives all ended in a turnover, really showing me that Arizona wanted to give the game away, but Detroit just didn't take advantage of the turnovers like they had done earlier in this season, and that is what was the difference in the game. Here are the results of the four proceeding drives with how many plays long they lasted:
DETROIT - 3 plays: Jon Kitna throws an interception
ARIZONA - 2 plays: Kurt Warner fumbles; recovered by Detroit
DETROIT - 6 plays: Jon Kitna fumbles; recovered by Arizona
ARIZONA - 3 plays: Kurt Warner fumbles; recovered by Detroit
As you can see, Detroit clearly could have done something with these turnovers that would have allowed them to win, but that just wasn't what was going to happen. This game was sloppy on both sides, but at the end of the day, the Lions were sloppier. Even after that last turnover by Arizona, Detroit moved the ball all the way down to the Cardinals 14-yard line before being stopped on 4th and short. Again, a touchdown or field goal there could have changed the outcome of this game.
Looking to come up with a miracle comeback with only a few minutes left, the Lions did score another touchdown when Kitna completed a pass to Roy Williams from 7 yards out, but still trailing by 10 points with only a minute or so left, Detroit really needed a lot of things to happen. The first was to get the ball back, and Mike Furrey barely missed recovering an onside kick, so that right there ended the game. The final score ended up being 31-21, and really when you look back on things, despite having -18 yards rushing, the Lions could've won this game had it not been for the turnovers.
Detroit will have to forget about this loss quickly as the next two games are going to define the season. The New York Giants, a playoff contender, will come to Ford Field on Sunday for a game that will be very important when it comes to finishing this season in a positive way. With a win, the Lions are right back in the thick of things in the NFC, but with a loss, we could be talking about another disappointing finish to the year. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX. Make sure to stop by Pride of Detroit during the game to comment or get live updates of the game. Until then, here's to hoping Detroit rebounds next Sunday and Go Lions.