The story of the 2012 season for the Detroit Lions has been coming up just short because of killer mistakes. Be it a special teams blunder, a dumb penalty or a turnover, the Lions just can't seem to stop beating themselves. Detroit has cost itself several games this season because of these killer mistakes, the latest of which was on Thanksgiving against the Houston Texans.
The officials certainly didn't do the Lions any favors on Thursday, but Detroit had plenty of chances to either put this game out of reach or flat out win it. They just weren't able to put the nail in the Texans' coffin. There was a missed field goal in overtime, a turnover and a general lack of ability to move the ball once in Houston territory. All of these mistakes kept the Texans in the game, and they ultimately won it by a score of 34-31 in OT.
Early on, the Lions were quite solid, especially on offense. Unlike every other game this season, they won the coin toss, elected to receive and actually managed to score a touchdown. The Lions were great on third down, and they managed to shake off a sack on the very first play of the game to keep the chains moving. A 25-yard pass to Ryan Broyles and a 20-yarder to Calvin Johnson moved the chains, as did a 12-yard run by Mikel Leshoure and a 12-yard pass to Mike Thomas. A 10-yard pass to Tony Scheffler that just barely went for a first down got the Lions down to the 2-yard line, and Leshoure punched the ball in on the very next play.
Following the Lions' touchdown, there were actually five consecutive three-and-outs in this game. There was also the first bad call of the game during this span, as the officials decided not to overturn a challenge on a punt that appeared to hit a Texans player. It would have Lions ball since they picked it up, but the officials didn't overturn it, citing a lack of evidence that the ball clearly deflected off a Texans player. Shortly after this, at the end of the first quarter, the Lions broke the streak of three-and-outs, but they only were able to pick up a first down once. Penalties killed the drive after that, resulting in yet another punt.
The Texans finally found some offensive success at the start of the second quarter. Matt Schaub found Andre Johnson for a gain of 37 yards, and the Lions defense just looked lost. The Texans had no trouble moving the ball on the ground, and Arian Foster scored from 6 yards out to tie the game. Houston only needed 3:42 to completely turn around the outlook of this game.
The scoring drive by the Texans must have gotten the Lions up from their nap, as they went back to how they played on the first possession of the game. Stafford connected with Johnson for gains of 14 and 35 yards on consecutive plays, and Johnson then went for 12 yards on third-and-8. Following a 12-yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew and a couple incompletions, the Lions faced third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Stafford again was able to make something happen on third down, as he found Thomas in the end zone for a touchdown to put the Lions back on top.
This game really started to turn into a shootout in the second quarter. The Lions answered the Texans' TD with one of their own, as did the Texans after the Lions' TD. Once again, Houston didn't need much time to move the ball down the field, and once again a big pass to Johnson helped flip the field. This time he gained 43 yards on a pass from Schaub, and just a few plays later Schaub found Owen Daniels for a 9-yard touchdown. This game was again tied.
Continuing the shootout theme, the Lions managed to break the tie in all of 2 plays and 22 seconds. Stefan Logan actually put together a nice kick return, and Stafford got things moving quickly with a 37-yard pass to Broyles. On the very next play, Stafford threw a great pass to Johnson, who made an even better catch in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Lions were up 21-14.
The crazy second quarter came to an end without any real fireworks. Cliff Avril forced a fumble when he sacked Schaub, but the Texans recovered and simply ran out the clock. They didn't want to take a chance considering they nearly turned the ball over, so the Lions went into the half with a 21-14 lead.
The second half opened with more of what we saw in the first quarter from the Texans, as they went three-and-out. The Lions took over at their own 22-yard line and again had little trouble moving the ball, especially on third down. Broyles and Johnson again were the main targets, and the Lions got all the way down to the Houston 27 before the drive stalled. The Lions settled for a 46-yard field goal, increasing their lead to 24-14.
It was at this point in the game that all hell broke loose. Justin Forsett should have been ruled down on the second play of the Texans' next possession, but the officials didn't blow the play dead. Forsett continued on for an 81-yard touchdown, and because Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag on a scoring play and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, it couldn't be reviewed. This awful rule and awful decision by Schwartz allowed the officials' awful call to stand. (Did I mention it was awful?) Forsett's knee and elbow were down, but the Lions' lead was now down to 24-21. This sequence of events pretty much flipped the game upside down.
The Lions were unable to respond and had to quickly punt. The defense then proceeded to allow the Texans to march right into Detroit territory before coming up with a stop. Shayne Graham kicked a 45-yard field goal after the Lions put a halt to the drive, but the damage was done. This game was now tied, and the Lions were reeling.
The Lions luckily were able to come up with a response on their next possession, and it was a forceful one. Joique Bell came into the game and broke off a 26-yard run, which was Detroit's first run of more than 20 yards all season. Then, a few plays later, he went for 23 yards and a touchdown. These two runs came completely out of nowhere, and the Lions now were back on top, 31-24.
After a three-and-out by the Texans, the Lions took over near midfield thanks to another solid return by Logan. (Shocking, I know.) Unfortunately, the Lions couldn't even get a field goal out of the drive despite Johnson going for 13 yards to open the drive. Stafford took a sack for a loss of 8 yards on third down, and the Lions were forced to punt.
This sequence repeated itself again on the next two drives. Houston went three-and-out, and the Lions took over with great field position. (This time thanks to a Texans player destroying Logan before he really had a chance to catch the punt.) Once again, the Lions couldn't turn the good field position into anything despite getting down to the Houston 36. A 7-yard loss on another third down sack forced the Lions to punt.
Considering Nick Harris pinned the Texans down at their own 3-yard line, the previous drive at least had some positives. The Texans needed to go 97 yards to tie the game, and considering how the Lions defense was playing, this seemed unlikely. As the Lions have shown before, however, unlikely doesn't mean anything. Just like last week against the Green Bay Packers, the defense couldn't get off the field on third or fourth down. Houston moved the chains on third-and-8, fourth-and-7 and third-and-10 on this drive. The defense again collapsed at the worst possible time, and the Texans tied things up on a 1-yard touchdown run by Foster.
Unlike last week, the Lions didn't respond to blowing their lead with a horrendous drive offensively. In fact, the Lions got into Houston territory and again looked poised to at least get a field goal. Just like the past two drives, though, the Lions couldn't keep their drive going once they got past the 50. They had to punt as a result, and Houston ran out the final seconds of regulation to send this game to overtime.
The Lions won the toss and started overtime with a bang. Stafford found Broyles for a 40-yard gain, and the Lions were quickly on the verge of getting into field goal range. The Lions were at the Houston 40, so they really didn't even need a first down to at least give Jason Hanson a shot. Apparently Pettigrew didn't get this memo, as he tried to fight for extra yards after going for a gain of 8. He should've just went down, but he didn't and allowed Danieal Manning to strip the ball. The Texans recovered the fumble, and Ford Field was stunned.
After two 11-yard runs by Foster and a 14-yard pass to Johnson, the Lions looked like they were done. The defense didn't stop fighting, though. Thanks to a false start and Foster losing 2 yards on back-to-back plays, the Texans' seemingly easy field goal became much tougher. On fourth-and-16, they sent Graham out to attempt a 51-yarder, and his kick looked good initially. Had it been closer, it probably would have been good. Those lost yards cost Graham and the Texans, though, as the kick tailed off to the left and went wide of the upright. No good. Hope was not lost just yet for the Lions.
Just like every other recent drive, the Lions got into Houston territory and failed to do anything. The Lions seemed like they were on the verge of getting into field goal range, but three consecutive incompletions prevented that from happening and forced a punt. (One of those incompletion was originally ruled an interception. It was clear the ball hit the ground, and the officials actually overturned the call this time around, not that it really made a huge difference.)
The Lions defense needed to make a play to get the ball back for the offense, and this is when Chris Houston stepped it up. He picked off Schaub on a pass thrown to Johnson, and Houston really wrestled the ball away to make the turnover happen.
The Lions now had the ball at the Houston 41, and this finally appeared to be the moment where they would win the game. This especially appeared to be the case when Stafford completed a 14-yard pass to Scheffler on third-and-11. The Lions were in field goal range, and they actually decided to send Hanson out there on third down. Rather than try to make it any closer, Schwartz decided to go for the win, and this ended up backfiring. Hanson had plenty of distance, but his 47-yard attempt doinked off the right upright and was no good. A bad snap certainly didn't help matters, but that's a kick Hanson makes almost every other time.
It just wasn't the Lions' day, as made evident by the Texans picking up 15, 23 and 11 yards on passes from Schaub right after the missed field goal. The Texans were back in field goal range, and this time around Graham's kick was good. He connected on a 32-yard field goal to give the Texans a 34-31 win and put an end to this ridiculous game on Thanksgiving.
This was honestly one of the most frustrating games I've ever watched. It was bad enough that the officials were so terrible, but the fact of the matter is that the Lions gave this game away in the fourth quarter and overtime. As pointed out by Nate Dunlevy, the Lions got into Texans territory on their final six drives of the game and managed to come away with 0 points. They just couldn't finish a drive without a mistake of some sort, whether it was a sack, turnover or missed field goal. The Lions could have and should have won this game, but they couldn't overcome their own mistakes.
At this point, the season is essentially over. The Lions would have still needed a miracle to make the playoffs even if they had won on Thursday. With them losing and dropping to 4-7, any hopes of a run to the playoffs have been dashed. Now they need to worry more about finishing the season strong. A collapse down the stretch would just be disappointing, and it could potentially cost players and/or coaches their job for next season. You can't quit just because the playoffs are out of reach, so these final five games will really tell us a lot about the character of this team.