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Recap: Detroit Lions self-destruct, get eliminated from playoff contention

The wheels are coming off.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions were getting all the help they needed on Sunday. Only one problem: They couldn’t help themselves. Blown opportunity after blown opportunity caused the Lions to meltdown late and they were defeated by the Bengals, 26-17.

The game got off to a slow start as both teams traded five total punts to start the game. But the Lions broke the dry spell on their third offensive drive of the game. After a three-and-out for the Bengals offense, the Lions had a short field to deal with. Matthew Stafford quickly cashed in, dropping a perfect pass to Eric Ebron, who had left the linebacker in coverage in the dust. The 33-yard score was the longest of Ebron’s career.

The Bengals looked prime to draw things even, but Andy Dalton panicked and lofted up a ball that landed in Quandre Diggs’ waiting arms. The Lions couldn’t take advantage, however, as they came up short on another third-and-short situation. Jim Caldwell opted to punt at midfield rather than go for it on fourth-and-less than a yard.

Cincinnati would methodically drive into the red zone, but a few Dalton overthrows stalled the drive and the Bengals could only muster a field goal. Detroit led 7-3 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half.

After the teams traded punts once again, it was time for another Lions two-minute drill. But as the Lions drew to midfield, Stafford took a hit from Vontaze Burfict as he was throwing the ball, leaving a duck of the pass in the middle of the field. The Bengals intercepted and cashed in the turnover for a field goal as the half expired.

The Lions offense came out in the second looking a lot more consistent. They drove 61 yards in over five minutes of time, but stalled in the red zone. Matt Prater knocked in a gimme 23-yard field goal and Detroit’s lead was back up to four.

But the Bengals answered, seemingly with ease. Cincy went 75 yards without facing a single third down and took their first lead. After Matt Prater missed a rare 50-yard field goal, the Bucs tacked on another field goal and Detroit found themselves down 16-10 with a quarter left in the game.

The Lions would retake the lead on a truly bizarre possession. The Lions faced a fourth-and-1 and appeared to be going for it. However, the offensive line jumped and Detroit punted away. But on the punt the Bengals ran into Sam Martin, giving the Lions another fourth-and-1 opportunity. This time Tion Green busted through the line for a first down. later. A few plays later, the Lions gave the rock back to Green, and he hit paydirt with a 5-yard touchdown run.

But the Lions defense couldn’t put it away. Detroit had a chance to get off the field on a key third-and-13, but Quandre Diggs committed a holding penalty giving the Bengals new life. A few plays later, Cincinnati would kick the go-ahead field giving the Lions 4:42 to overcome a 19-17 deficit.

The Lions potential go-ahead drive only went backwards, but ended with controversy. On a prayer, Matthew Stafford heaved a ball to Golden Tate, who appeared to come down with the ball only to have the ball stripped out by a Bengals defender. The play was called incomplete, but replay appeared to show Tate down with full possession of the ball before getting the ball jarred loose after he was down. Caldwell did not choose to challenge the play, and the Lions were forced to punt.

Like most of the day, the Lions defense was unable to stop the Bengals and Cincinnati put the nail in the coffin with a 12-yard touchdown run on third-and-6.

The Lions fall to 8-7 and have been eliminated from playoff contention. Considering the sloppy play of the Lions in a must-win game, and the missed challenge from Caldwell, one has to wonder if next week may be his last.

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