The Detroit Lions needed a win on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings to get back to .500 going into their bye week. As bad as they've played lately, the Lions could have put all of that behind them with a victory on Sunday, setting the tone for the rest of the season.
The Lions did set the tone for the rest of the season, but not in a good way. Detroit came out flat-footed yet again and fell behind early thanks to awful special teams play. Although the defense struggled at times, overall it played pretty well, but the Lions couldn't overcome their mediocre play on offense and special teams. As a result, the Vikings ended up winning by a score of 20-13, handing the Lions their third consecutive loss.
Just as the Lions set the tone for what is shaping up to be a rough season with the loss to the Vikings, they set the tone for another disappointing performance on the opening kickoff of Sunday's game. Their special teams issues from last week carried over with Percy Harvin returning the game's opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown. He wasn't even touched, and the Lions once again showed off their awful coverage by allowing him to take the kick to the house.
The Lions actually looked like they might provide a quick and forceful response to the kickoff return for a touchdown. On the Lions' first offensive play, with the Vikings jumping offside, Matthew Stafford threw a bomb to Calvin Johnson, who drew a pass interference penalty. The Lions declined the offside call and accepted the pass interference penalty, which gave them 56 free yards. Unfortunately, just as we've seen in the last couple weeks, the Lions couldn't do anything with the good field position and had to settle for a 40-yard field goal.
After the two teams traded punts, the Vikings worked their way down the field thanks in part to a pass interference penalty on Bill Bentley. Bentley never looked back, making it an easy call for the officials. The penalty gave the Vikings 31 yards and put them in position to ultimately kick a 49-yard field goal, making this a 10-3 game.
Following yet another Lions punt, the Vikings got the ball back deep in their own territory. They weren't there for long, though. An 18-yard run by Adrian Peterson got the Vikings out of the shadow of their own goal posts, and a 17-yard pass from Christian Ponder to Harvin moved the ball to near midfield. Then, after another pass interference penalty on Bentley (this one good for 26 yards), the Vikings were able to once again kick a field goal after the Lions' defense made a stop. This time Blair Walsh connected from 27 yards out to give the Vikings a 13-3 lead.
The Lions' offense finally had some success moving the ball on their next drive. Stafford had a big 19-yard pass to Johnson, and then he found Titus Young for 17 yards on the very next play. An unnecessary roughness penalty shortly after moved the Lions into first-and-goal territory, which is when the drive stalled. Stafford was sacked, and after Johnson couldn't hang on in the end zone when he took a big hit and Brandon Pettigrew had an awful drop when he was wide open in the end zone, the Lions had to settle for a 31-yard Jason Hanson field goal.
The Vikings were unable to score before halftime thanks to some excellent pressure by the Lions' defense. This meant that the Lions got to start the second half with the ball and down only a touchdown. Unsurprisingly, they didn't capitalize on the opportunity to put points on the board. The Lions picked up 16 yards on the first play of the third quarter, but the drive stalled after that, forcing a punt. This turned out to be a big disaster for the Lions, as Marcus Sherels took Nick Harris' punt back 77 yards for yet another special teams touchdown. Kassim Osgood whiffed on a tackle as soon as Sherels got the ball, and several other Lions missed tackles, allowing Sherels to score the touchdown.
Now with no momentum whatsoever, the Lions needed to really come out and make a statement if they were going to get back into this game. They got off to a good start on the next drive with a 26-yard pass to Nate Burleson, but that was just about all they could manage. Fast forward to third-and-one at the Minnesota 40 a few plays later and the Lions got stuffed. Then, on fourth-and-one, the Lions decided to punt instead of trying to go for it. The crowd booed and the Lions looked like they were just about done.
The Lions' defense rose to the occasion by getting a stop, and a 27-yard punt return by Stefan Logan gave Detroit great field position yet again. The offense once again couldn't do anything with it, though, as the Lions went three-and-out. After the Vikings responded with a three-and-out of their own, the Lions again had good field position. After a 10-yard pass to Pettigrew on third down moved the chains, things were looking up for the Lions, especially after Mikel Leshoure finally found some daylight and rumbled for 14 yards. Unfortunately, that 14-yard run ended with Leshoure fumbling the ball away to the Vikings, once again killing any momentum the Lions had built up.
After taking over following the turnover, Minnesota put together an 11-play drive that carried over into the fourth quarter and ran 6:07 off the clock. The Lions were able to get a stop, and Walsh missed a 46-yard field goal. This gave the Lions new life by keeping the score within two possessions, and the offense looked like it was finally going to take advantage of a Minnesota mistake. However, just like seemingly every possession as of late, the offense couldn't sustain a drive once it got into the red zone. The Lions had second-and-eight from the Minnesota 10, and Stafford awkwardly scrambled for a gain of three. On third down, he nearly got picked off trying to escape pressure by shoveling a pass in the direction of Joique Bell. Then, on fourth down, Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards on an all-out blitz by Minnesota.
As disastrous as that sequence was, the Lions weren't out of the game just yet. The defense came up with another big stop, and the offense finally did manage to find the end zone. Operating out of the no huddle, Stafford led the Lions down the field by looking in the direction of Bell quite often. The Vikings were playing deep coverage, allowing Bell to go for gains of four, 16, 13 and 23 yards on passes from Stafford. Eventually, Stafford capped off the drive by leaping up and putting the ball over the plane of the goal line for a one-yard touchdown with 2:56 left on the clock. The Lions now trailed 20-13.
The defense did its job by getting a stop, giving the Lions one last chance to go down the field and tie this up. Stafford and company took over at their own two-yard line, so the Lions needed to pick up big chunks of yards very quickly with only 1:42 on the clock. The Lions did pick up gains of nine and 11 yards to open the drive, but after three incompletions, they were running out of time. This wasn't actually the biggest concern when the Lions faced fourth-and-10; simply extending the game by picking up a first down was. Luckily, Stafford found Johnson for a gain of 17, moving the ball up to the Lions' 39 and keeping hope alive of another ridiculous comeback.
The next play pretty much killed any chances of this comeback attempt actually producing overtime, as Stafford was sacked. The ball came out and was recovered by Minnesota, but a booth review overturned the fumble call. The Lions ended up with nine seconds left, and after a quick six-yard pass to Pettigrew, there was time for only one more play -- a Hail Mary. There was no miracle touchdown this week. In fact, Stafford didn't even get a pass off. He looked lost throughout the game any time he faced pressure, and that was especially true on the game's final play, which ended up being an 11-yard sack. The Lions couldn't even get a Hail Mary attempt off as they fell 20-13 to the Vikings.
It goes without saying, but this team is in a lot of trouble. A 1-3 start is inexcusable, and the Lions are just an absolute mess. Certainly they've been the victim of some bad luck, but that is not why they are 1-3. They are 1-3 because they are not a good team. They've allowed four special teams touchdowns in the last two weeks, and the offense still can't figure out how to sustain drives and score from the red zone on a consistent basis. The defense was actually pretty good aside from a select group of plays on Sunday, but there are a lot of issues on that side of the ball as well.
The good news for the Lions is that they won't have to worry about their losing streak growing to four games next week. Week 5 is the Lions' bye, meaning they will get two weeks to get things figured out before they head to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in Week 6. Changes need to be made, both from a coaching and personnel standpoint, if the Lions are going to get this season turned around and prevent it from being a wasted year. I certainly hope they use their bye week wisely.