The Detroit Lions lost to the Chicago Bears on Monday night in a low-scoring game that followed a similar script to most of their games this season. The defense played well enough for the Lions to win, and despite some mistakes on special teams, the game was still within reach. In the end, it was the offense's inability to turn drives into points that ultimately cost the Lions the game. Three killer red zone turnovers doomed the Lions, resulting in a 13-7 loss that dropped their record to 2-4 on the season.
Given their slow starts throughout this season, it was important for the Lions to set the tone early on Monday night by putting points on the board. Unfortunately, that once again did not happen. They did set the tone, but it was for another disappointing performance on offense. The Lions took the ball after winning the coin toss and quickly went three-and-out. They had the ball for all of 58 seconds before having to punt. The game could have been completely different had Calvin Johnson not dropped a wide open pass on third down, but the fact that one of the best players in the league can't make a routine play pretty much sums up how things are going for the Lions right now.
To further establish how bad the Lions are at the start of games, the Bears needed only six plays and 2:50 to go down the field and score a touchdown. Thanks to an 11-yard scramble by Jay Cutler on third down and a 39-yard run by Matt Forte, the Bears quickly moved into position to score. Cutler found Brandon Marshall from seven yards out for the game's opening touchdown one play later.
Although the Lions did pick up a first down on their next drive on a 15-yard run by Mikel Leshoure, that was it for this possession. They had to punt the ball away again, although the defense did rebound to make a stop of their own. The offense was unable to do anything with it, though, and a bad punt after a three-and-out gave Chicago the ball at the 50-yard line. The Lions' defense was unable to keep the Bears from getting into field goal range, but they did at least keep them out of the end zone. Robbie Gould connected from 39 yards out despite Ndamukong Suh nearly getting a hand on it, and the Bears now led 10-0.
Following yet another three-and-out, this time after the Lions couldn't pick up one yard on two tries, the Bears joined the ugly offense party by also going three-and-out. The defense was really starting to settle in for the Lions, and the stop resulted in outstanding field position for the offense. The Lions took over just past the 50-yard line, but as usual, they weren't able to do anything with this great chance to put some points on the board. Another three-and-out meant another punt, and Nick Harris pinned Chicago inside their own five-yard line.
A couple penalties on the Bears backed them up about as far as you can go, especially after Forte was stuffed for no gain. The Bears were essentially snapping the ball from their own goal line, and a stop would have surely given the Lions outstanding field position. Unfortunately, the Bears dug out of the hole they were in with a big completion on third down, and suddenly it was the Lions' defense that was struggling. Chicago moved all the way down to the Detroit 20 before a sack by Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch put an end to this drive. The Bears had a shot at three points, but Lawrence Jackson blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt, meaning all that was for nothing for Chicago.
I was hoping the field goal block would be a point in this game where momentum shifted around, but the Lions' offense kept that from happening, at least on the next possession. They went three-and-out again despite having second-and-one, and the Bears followed suit with a three-and-out of their own.
It was actually at this point that the Lions' offense finally woke up. Matthew Stafford scrambled for 12 yards and a first down, and a couple plays later Leshoure rumbled for 14 yards. Operating out of the no-huddle, the Lions were cruising down the field, and a 10-yard run by Leshoure put them all the way down to the Chicago 18. It looked like the Lions were finally going to get on the board and make this a game. Then, right on cue, the Lions shot themselves in the foot. Leshoure fumbled the ball when he tried to fight for extra yardage on first down and the Bears recovered. The Lions' first decent drive of the day produced nothing more than a red zone turnover, and the Lions went into halftime down 10-0 as a result.
The Bears opened the second half with the ball, and the most surprising thing to me was that Jay Cutler returned to the game as Chicago's quarterback. In the second quarter, he was driven into the ground on a sack by Suh and looked to be hurt. He only missed one play on that drive, but he went into the locker room early and didn't come out until right before the start of the third quarter.
Cutler's decision to play through "bruised ribs" didn't seem to be all that smart initially. You could tell it was affecting the velocity of his passes, and the Lions' defense had little trouble forcing a three-and-out to start the second half. Unfortunately, that three-and-out went to waste on the ensuing punt, as Stefan Logan muffed the return. This was his second muffed punt of the game, and unlike the first one, which bounced out of bounds, the Bears recovered the ball. The Bears were now at the Detroit 27, and they later got down to the three-yard line. Although the defense did hold the Bears to a field goal, the damage was done in terms of Logan killing any momentum the Lions might have built up.
The Lions' offense brushed off the mistake by Logan and came ready to play on their first drive of the third quarter. They had no trouble moving the ball, going for gains of 14, 16 and eight yards to start the drive. Later, a 16-yard pass from Stafford to Ryan Broyles, who came into the game after Nate Burleson got hurt, put the Lions in the red zone. The Lions got down to the one-yard line after a pass to Calvin Johnson on one play and a pass interference penalty on the next, and it looked like they were about to make this a one score game. That didn't happen, though. Disaster struck again in the form of a killer turnover, this time when Joique Bell lost the ball as he tried to dive into the end zone. He was not even close to breaking the plane of the goal line, and the unnecessary risk resulted in the Bears getting the ball back with their shutout intact.
On the next five drives in this game, the two teams combined for five punts. The defenses were really putting down the clamps, keeping this a 13-0 game as the fourth quarter started ticking down. With 6:24 left on the clock, the Lions took over at their own 12 and started going no-huddle again. It seemed like they were ready to start mounting yet another late comeback, especially when Stafford found Broyles for 23-yard gain that put the Lions inside the 10-yard line. A three-yard pass to Bell moved the Lions inside the five, but that's as close as they got to a touchdown. Two incompletions later, it was fourth-and-goal, and pressure forced Stafford to throw a desperation pass in Broyles' direction. It came up short of the end zone and was actually picked off by D.J. Moore, effectively ending any real hope of a comeback.
At this point, it would have taken a finish similar to the Tennessee Titans game for the Lions to win. They did cut the lead down to one possession on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Broyles with 30 seconds left, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Chicago's Earl Bennett. Cutler took a knee to run out the clock and seal the Bears' 13-7 win over the Lions.
The most frustrating part about this loss is that the Lions easily could have won. Despite the offense's inability to move the ball save for four drives, they would have been in position to win had even one of those red zone turnovers not happened. If you turn those three turnovers into field goals, the Lions likely walk away winners on Monday night. It just seems no matter what happens, the offense can't deliver on a consistent basis, and that was the Lions' downfall in Chicago.
The defense actually played quite well. There were a few disappointing plays, but take away the muffed punt that led to a field goal and the defense only really gave up 10 points. The defense did more than enough to put the Lions in position to win, especially when you consider how much talent this team has on offense. The fact that the Lions couldn't manage anything more than a late touchdown when the game was basically already out of reach is just pathetic. The offense hasn't scored a touchdown in the first half since Week 1, and as much as we've complained about play calling, this was on the players. Key drops or overthrows on third down and turnovers at the worst possible time doomed the Lions, and to say the offense is a mess would be an understatement.
With the Lions now 2-4, it's tough to look at the rest of the season with much hope. Sure, 2-4 teams have come back to make the playoffs before, but this is just not a good team. When the offense plays well, the defense and special teams struggle. When the defense excels, mistakes on the other two units prevent the Lions from winning. It's becoming quite clear that the Lions just may not be good enough to put together a team-wide winning effort at the same time, which is why they now sit at the bottom of the NFC North. The talent is there, sure, but this team just can't seem to overcome poor coaching and bad execution.
The one good thing about playing on Monday night is that there isn't much time to dwell on this loss. The Lions have the Seattle Seahawks coming to town on Sunday, and if they want to even think about turning this season into something positive, they have to come away with a victory.