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Detroit Lions Week 15 report card: Special teams, coaching failures lead to season-ending loss

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Lions players didn’t play all that poorly, but coaches failed them yet again.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

After another Detroit Lions loss—this time, one that ended the team’s playoff hopes for good—it’s time to hand out some grades. These ones may surprise you a little, because the players actually didn’t play all that poorly. But a few questionable decisions and breakdowns ultimately caused the Lions to drop their ninth game of the season.

Quarterback: B

Per usual, many fans were out to get Matthew Stafford after yet another pathetic offensive performance, but it’s hard to put a lot of blame on Stafford himself. Though he did miss one big opportunity up the seam, he was accurate for most of the day, and even finally connected on some deep balls (with a little help from his friend).

Stafford also did a good job avoiding negative plays. No fumbles, no interceptions, no sacks. Admittedly, that’s a low bar to set, but this Bills defense was no slouch. Stafford was more than adequate on this day.

Running backs: B

Zach Zenner, in his first start since 2016, ran tough and has clearly established himself as the best rusher on the team that’s currently healthy. Theo Riddick had one of the best rushing games of his entire career.

Unfortunately, LeGarrette Blount’s magic from a couple games ago appears to be gone. Blount only had 9 yards on seven rushes, and far too often it seems going to Blount is a wasted down.

Wide receivers: C

Kenny Golladay was an absolute beast on Sunday, setting a career high in receiving yards (146) and his second-highest total of receptions (seven). And he did a lot of the work individually, pulling interceptions away from defenders and winning 50/50 balls consistently, even when being interfered with.

But the rest of the group was so bad that it pulled this unit’s grade all the way down to C. Brandon Powell was the latest to try to do a Golden Tate impression and it resulted in three catches for 11 yards. Andy Jones scored his first NFL touchdown but was a non-factor on every other snap. And TJ Jones has yet to take off his invisibility cloak.

Tight ends: B-

Levine Toilolo has suddenly emerged as an actual receiving option, giving the Lions offense a new dimension. Luke Willson played fairly well in fullback duty with Nick Bellore again out with an ankle injury.

Solid but unspectacular is a good way to describe the tight end crew on Sunday.

Offensive line: C-

Stafford didn’t take any sacks, but it never really felt like had a comfortable pocket, either. The opening of rushing lanes seemed inconsistent, at best. Detroit continues to really struggle in short-yardage situations, and a lot of that is the play of the offensive line.

Considering the injuries and a pretty solid Bills defensive front, it wasn’t a bad performance by the offensive line, but it wasn’t good enough, either.

Defensive line: C

A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison Sr. both continue to be extremely disruptive, opening opportunities for their teammates to make plays. But Detroit’s pass rush is beyond anemic at this point, and on several occasions it allowed Josh Allen to connect on some big plays.

They do deserve a little credit for containing Allen in the pocket and holding him to just 16 yards on nine carries, but the lack of pass rush is what ultimately cost the Lions this game.

Linebackers: D+

Jarrad Davis began the game where he left off last week. He was instinctual, fast and devastating. But that seemed to quickly wear off. He allowed Allen to get the edge on his touchdown run. Then he was suddenly having a hard time getting off blocks, and his offsides penalty was absolutely brutal (and he knew it).

Devon Kennard also had a good start to the game, then disappeared as a pass rusher.

The Bills were a team that started without their top two running backs and ended without their top four. They were still able to rush for 117 yards, and that was largely due to some poor linebacker play.

Secondary: C+

Darius Slay continued to look like himself for most of the day, notching three passes defended and would’ve had a fourth had he not been called for a weak pass interference penalty. Glover Quin had an interception that should have been challenged and Nevin Lawson should have had another.

Unfortunately, Mike Ford was so bad on Sunday that it drags the entire unit down. Ford allowed two big completions—including the game-winner—and was called for a 43-yard pass interference penalty. It was brutal.

Special teams: F

Not only were special teams responsible for a botched extra point that arguably cost the Lions the game and the fourth-quarter missed field goal that arguably cost the Lions the game, but another special teams penalty negated one of Detroit’s few good punt returns, and the coverage team probably would’ve been burned for another big return had the Bills player not suffered a non-contact injury.

The Bills came into this game with one of the worst special teams units in the NFL, and the Lions one-upped them. They didn’t play horribly all game, but when they did, they made sure it was at the most devastating of times.

Coaching: F

Matt Patricia did not challenge the Glover Quin interception, which was a big mistake, in my opinion. Detroit’s two-minute drill remains completely unwatchable, as Lions coaches continue to prioritize running out the clock to being aggressive. They seem much more concerned about not leaving much time on the clock should their drive fail than to actually make sure the drive doesn’t fail. With a chance to take a two-score lead AND GET THE BALL BACK IN THE THIRD QUARTER, Detroit threw for 5 yards, threw for 3 yards, then ran a draw. That’s just playing way too conservative and scared.

Then in the second half it was more of the same. After finally going downfield to Golladay and opening up the offense a little in the first half, Detroit opted to turtle in the hopes they could just hold onto the lead. It predictably didn’t work, and even when the Lions trailed late in the game, they didn’t bother taking any necessary risks.

As soon as they got into field goal range on what could’ve been a game-winning drive, they went run, dump-off, pass short of the sticks. They played for a long field goal attempt and they got the predictable outcome: A missed field goal and a big, fat L.

I know the Lions’ personnel is not very good right now on offense, but you cannot let that completely dictate your gameplan. This offense still works best when they’re being aggressive, and they have proven time and time again that small ball is just not working without Golden Tate. Coaching deserves the biggest of Fs on Sunday.