With its season on the line, the Detroit Lions were in a tough position on Sunday. After dropping 4 straight games and falling out of second place in the wild card, it really wasn't a choice to win, it was a necessity. Going up against the Dallas Cowboys made that necessity look impossible, and even I said that a win wouldn't happen all last week. My prediction was for this game to be a blowout, but instead it went down to the final seconds. The end result was the same - a loss - but to be honest, a blowout would have been easier to watch. The Lions led almost the entire game before Dallas came back to score the go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds, getting them a 28-27 win. Detroit missed out on chances to put the Cowboys away twice in what will go down as the probable season-ender for 2007.
Dallas got the ball first to start this game and all Lions fans knew that if an upset were to happen, Detroit had to get things going in the first quarter. In most of the losses this year the Lions waited until it was too late to get the offense clicking, so an early score or two would definitely be nice. First, though, it would be the defense that needed to make something happen. With that in mind, the defense did get a stop, putting the Cowboys in a position where they had to kick a 50-yard field goal. Nick Folk pushed it wide, and the Lions came away after 1 possession still tied 0-0.
Since the running game has been so nonexistent in previous weeks, Mike Martz put together a solid gameplan that included running the ball. As surprising as that may sound, it was even more surprising that running the ball worked so well. Kevin Jones carried the ball 3 straight successful times to get the ball into Dallas territory before T.J. Duckett came in to finish the job. Duckett got a handoff and rumbled down the field 32 yards and into the endzone to put the Lions on top 7-0. I was truly sunned as the running game looked better on one drive alone then it did the rest of the entire season. Plus, with an early 7-0 lead, momentum was in Detroit's favor.
After a quick three and out by Dallas, the Lions got the ball back and again moved the ball. Eventually getting down to the 1-yard line after a couple of 3rd down conversions, Detroit had 1st and goal only a single yard away from making it a 2-touchdown game. Looking back, this is really an opportunity that Detroit couldn't afford to miss. Even though the Lions had 3 attempts at scoring a TD from only a yard away, they were shut down each time. Having to settle for a field goal was just disappointing when it happened, but in hindsight, it really was one of the many things that cost them this game.
Following the touchdown, Dallas answered back with a big kick return. It was almost broken for a touchdown, but Jason Hanson forced the returner out of bounds. Hanson was only delaying the inevitable, though, as Dallas scored in only 5 plays. Marion Barber put the ball into the endzone from 20 yards out on 3rd and short to score the TD, making it 10-7 in favor of the Lions.
Detroit added another field goal on the proceeding drive and then held Dallas to another three and out. In position to really increase the lead, the Lions did just that after getting the ball back. Using a perfect combination of runs and passes, the Lions advanced the ball down the field efficiently before Kevin Jones capped off the great drive. Jones ran into the endzone for a 2-yard touchdown, putting the Lions on top 20-7.
Hoping to cut the deficit before the half, the Cowboys put together a scoring drive with only 1:41 to go on the clock. In reality, Dallas played its best ball in its 2-minute drill offense as we would later see in the fourth quarter. It was no different in the second quarter either as the Cowboys moved the ball quickly and eventually scored on an 8-yard pass from Tony Romo to Barber. That TD was big as it cut the lead down to 20-14 going into the half.
The start to the second half was shaky as the Lions opened with a three and out, but their fortunes would change after a Detroit punt went out of bounds at the 3-yard line. Dallas had trouble advancing the ball and was forced to punt as well, only difference was their punt was not good at all. The Lions took over in Dallas territory and again moved the ball thanks to a balanced pass-run attack. I know I've criticized Mike Mart a lot recently, but I'll give him props for this week's game plan. It was perfect, and this drive just showed that off. Jones eventually crossed the goal line from 3 yards out, making it Detroit 27, Dallas 14.
The Cowboys answered back as they had to get something going with time running out. Tony Romo led his team down the field before Marion Barber punched the ball in from a yard out. That cut the lead down to only 6 points with nearly an entire quarter left to go, putting the Cowboys in good shape.
The next few drives really were a roller coaster ride. Getting the ball back, Detroit again put together another great drive and got into field goal range before it stalled. From only 35 yards out, one would usually be correct in saying that a kick like that was a gimme for someone like Jason Hanson, but this was a rare occasion where that statement was false. Hanson just barely missed the attempt that he would usually make, and the Lions blew their chance at making the lead 2 possessions. At the time it seemed like a crushing blow, and in the end that would prove to be true.
Getting the ball back with momentum, Tony Romo again was able to orchestrate a great drive. He kept finding his receivers and got the ball down the field. It appeared he would score with ease, but then the one-time play of the game for the Lions happened. Romo hit tight end Jason Witten, who had a career day with 15 catches, inside the 2-yard line. Witten tried to stretch the ball into the endzone but right before falling to the ground lost control of the ball. Greg Blue, who was in the right place at the right time often for the Lions during this game, quickly grabbed the ball before Witten could recover. At first glance it looked like Witten was down, but the referees correctly gave the ball to the Lions.
Finally Detroit caught a break they needed desperately. After the Cowboys came up only inches short, the Lions got the ball out of their own endzone and started using the clock. Following a couple first downs, the Lions were literally one more first down away from being able to take a knee as Dallas wasted two of their timeouts and used their final one on this drive. It just wasn't meant to be as things began to unravel when Detroit had to punt the ball away.
Dallas got the ball back down by 6 with at their own 17 with only 2:15 to go. Tony Romo was moving the ball again and had what appeared to be little trouble completing passes as their usually was a receiver open. Even so, Romo made one mistake that nearly ended this game for good. He was scrambling around and had the ball knocked out of his hand by Jared DeVries. The ball fell forward and appeared to go right into the hands of Lions middle linebacker Paris Lenon. All Lenon had to do was fall on the ball and the game was over. Sounds simple, right? Well, you would think so. Instead of falling on the ball, Lenon tried to pick it up and ended up kicking it forward, right into the possession of a Cowboys lineman. This play felt exactly like the missed field goal by Hanson as it was a chance to put Dallas away for good. In this case, literally, Lenon recovering the fumble would have ended the game as Detroit would have just had to take a knee.
Following the missed opportunity to taste victory instead of just smelling it, Dallas took things up a notch. Romo completed his next 5 passes (not counting a spike) with the last one going to Jason Witten for a 16-yard gain and a touchdown. Witten redeemed himself after fumbling inches away from a touchdown and continued his domination on the day. Why he was always so open I'll never understand, but he was all day long. Nick Folk made the extra point and with only 18 seconds left, Dallas led 28-27. The Lions made nothing of those final 18 seconds, so the Cowboys went on to win by that same score.
In the end, Detroit missed more than just opportunities in this game. A win would have put them back into the playoffs as Arizona lost yesterday. That knocked them out of the wild card and put the Lions into a tie with only the Vikings, who they miraculously hold the tie-breaker over according to FOX's Joe Buck. Since this game resulted in a loss instead of the upset, Detroit now is tied with 2 other teams (3 if New Orleans wins tonight) a game back of the final wild card spot. Normally that would still leave you with a chance, but the red hot Vikings control that final wild card spot and there is no sign of them slowing down any time soon.
On paper this season isn't over, but it would take a miracle for the Lions to make the playoffs now. We will always go back to this loss and think what could have been in regards to this season in general as it really was that big of a deal. Regardless, the Lions will have to hope to end this losing skid next week as they head to San Diego to face the Chargers. Kickoff is 4:15 p.m. ET on FOX.