When we last left our heroes, they were coming off an emotional win over Dallas. The Detroit Lions headed into their bye week with a 5-3 record and a truckful of optimism. Even their bye week had gone well. The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears had faced off, and not only had the Bears' victory pushed the Lions to the top of the NFC North standings, but Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, severely hurting Green Bay's chances at a playoff run.
The table was set for the Lions' biggest game of the season: a Week 10 showdown against the Bears in Chicago. The game got off to an ominous start. A beaten-up Jay Cutler drove the Bears 65 yards down the field in just 2:23 to give Chicago a quick 7-0 lead. However, the Lions responded with a long, methodical drive of their own, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown reception from Kris Durham.
From there, the defenses took over. The Lions consistently got after Cutler and his discomfort was obvious in the second half. After an impressive 74-yard touchdown drive from Detroit, the Bears had just 2:22 left to erase their 8-point deficit. Enter Josh McCown. With little resistance, McCown led the Bears to a scoring drive in just 1:42. But then the Lions stepped up and made a game-saving play late in the fourth quarter. On the 2-point conversion, Nick Fairley hammered into the backfield and took down Matt Forte in a dominating fashion. This was the pinnacle of the Detroit Lions' 2013 season.
Now solely atop the NFC North, the Lions headed to Pittsburgh to take on the slumping Steelers on a rainy day. Again, the Lions quickly fell behind, allowing Antonio Brown to score 2 long touchdowns in the first quarter. The Lions responded with one of their best quarters of football all season. In the second quarter alone, the Lions scored 27 points, including a 79-yard touchdown from Calvin Johnson. However, the turning point in the game would come in the final stanza.
Leading 27-23 in the fourth quarter, the Lions faced a fourh-and-5 at the Steelers 10-yard line. Jim Schwartz dialed up an extremely rare fake field goal, and Sam Martin was unable to pick up the first down in the rainy conditions. The Steelers then marched 97 yards for the go-ahead score. With 4:46 left to go, Matthew Stafford concluded the game by throwing 9 straight incompletions, including 1 interception. The Steelers tacked on an extra touchdown for their 37-27 victory.
The dejected Lions headed home to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which lost the first eight games of the season, but were riding a two-game winning streak. This game was a disaster from the get-go. Stafford threw 4 interceptions in this game, including one that was returned for a touchdown after Brandon Pettigrew ducked out of the way. Detroit dominated the play the entire game but turned the ball over five times, four of which occurred in Tampa Bay territory.
Despite all of their failures, the Lions had two golden opportunities to win the game in the final quarter. One drive ended with a strange-looking fumble from Durham, and the final drive ended with a rare drop from Johnson that deflected right into the hands of a Buccaneers defender.
Because of the struggles of both the Bears and the Packers, the Lions still found themselves atop the NFC North heading into Thanksgiving Day. Detroit faced a Rodgers-less Packers team on Turkey Day, hoping to reestablish their place atop the division. And that they did. Despite a first half full of not-so-comical errors, Detroit dominated the entire game, outgaining the Packers by over 400 yards on their way to a 30-point victory.
After 13 weeks, the Lions were 7-5 with (essentially) a two-game lead over Chicago and a 1.5-game lead over the Packers. With just one game remaining against a team with a winning record, things were looking awfully good. But the Lions would not win another game for the rest of the season.
The first defeat of their four-game losing streak came against the Philadelphia Eagles, in a pit of snow that occasionally resembled a football field. The conditions made for some pretty amazing photographs, but some pretty ugly football. Again, the Lions fell victim to their own turnover-prone hands. Detroit lost 3 fumbles in Eagles territory, and despite 2 special teams touchdowns from Jeremy Ross, the Lions couldn't come out with a win. As the weather conditions slowly subsided, LeSean McCoy emerged from the snowy mess. His 40- and 57-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter buried the Lions in their wintry grave.
And so, once again, the Lions trudged home on the heels of another crushing defeat. This time, Detroit had a chance to save the season on Monday Night Football against a Baltimore Ravens team that was barely clinging to playoff hopes.
After coming right out of the gate and scoring a touchdown on the opening drive, the Lions offense was unable to score another point in the first half. The second half was a continuation of the self-inflicted punishment that would come to define Detroit's entire season. Stafford threw 3 second-half interceptions, including one deep in Baltimore territory. Despite scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 2:21 remaining, Detroit was unable to hold that 1-point lead. Justin Tucker's 61-yard field goal split the uprights and traveled through every Detroit fan's heart. The Lions' playoff chances were on life support.
Officially now third in the standings, the Lions had no choice but to win their final two games to even have a crack at the postseason. That meant going through the lowly New York Giants, which sat at a mere 5-9, officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Detroit was not up for the challenge, apparently, falling behind 13-3 at the half. The Lions had trouble -- and stop me if you've heard this before -- holding on to the ball, turning it over twice in Giants territory in the first half alone. The Lions cleaned up their act in the second half, gaining a 7-point lead late in the fourth quarter. However, Stafford threw a killer pick-six that deflected off of Joseph Fauria's hands and tied up the game. After being awarded a lucky fumble in overtime, the Lions failed to create anything on offense and the Giants ended up kicking the game-winning field goal from 45 yards out.
The Lions' season ended unceremoniously against the Minnesota Vikings in a game that looked as unimportant as it actually was. In the end, the Lions finished 7-9 and gave away the division to the Packers. After that hugely disappointing finish, the Lions had no choice but to cut ties with head coach Jim Schwartz and much of the coaching staff.
But 2013 is over, and it's time to turn the page. With the NFL season coming to a close and a new coaching staff emerging, hope will spring again soon. So let us shovel the last few clumps of dirt over the 2013 season and pay our final respects. I suggest printing this article out, setting it afire, then burying the ashes in a secret location far, far away. And we shall never speak of this season again.*
*Except when I count down the top plays of 2013 in the upcoming weeks.