They say that most NFL games come down to two or three plays. Win the crucial downs, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come away victorious. The margin between a win and a loss is so close in today’s NFL that sometimes an average team in indistinguishable from a great team on any given Sunday.
That two or three game theory may not be adequate enough to describe Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. With each team scoring a go-ahead touchdown with less than three minutes remaining, you could look at a half a dozen plays that could have resulted in a Lions win.
The optimists out there will say that the Lions were so close that if you change literally one of these seven play outcomes, Detroit pulls off the huge upset. The pessimists will point out that the Lions failed on all seven of these plays, believing that’s evidence of a poor team. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, here are seven plays that could have changed the outcome of Sunday’s 34-30 loss to the Chiefs.
1. Fourth-and-1 false start late in the second quarter
After a well played first half, the Lions had a great opportunity to take a lead into the locker room. With 1:08 left, the Lions faced a fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs’ 25-yard line. Deciding to be aggressive, head coach Matt Patricia called for an offensive play to both keep the clock moving and get the opportunity to score seven instead of three.
However, Frank Ragnow’s double-clutched snap removed any opportunity of a conversion, and the Lions settled for three.
Had the Lions converted there, they would have almost certainly ran out the rest of the clock, and who knows if they score a touchdown? Instead, they kick the field goal and give Patrick Mahomes plenty of time to rebut. The two teams went into the half tied, when Detroit should have had, at least, a three-point lead.
2. The Kenny Golladay touchdown that never was
For a brief moment, the Lions were up 19-13, as Matthew Stafford somehow snuck a ball into Kenny Golladay’s bread basket on second-and-goal from the 5 early in the third quarter. But replay showed a brief moment in which Golladay appeared to lose control of the ball before landing out of bounds.
The very next play, Matthew Stafford fumbled the ball away, and instead of a seven-point lead, the Lions came away completely empty handed.
3. The Fumble
Yeah, we don’t need to get into this one. This was a 14-point swing. Blame the refs. Blame Kerryon Johnson. Blame the rest of the Lions team for not playing to the whistle, but this was obviously the most game-changing play of the day, and there is plenty of blame to go around.
4. Third-and-6 for Chiefs early in the fourth
With Detroit now up a field goal, the Chiefs faced a crucial down in the red zone. Third-and-6 from Detroit’s 9-yard line, Patrick Mahomes foreshadowed what would happen later in the game. With good coverage from the Lions defense, Mahomes escaped to his left and picked up 7 yards for the conversion.
Romeo Okwara loses contain on the left side of the offense, and while A’Shawn Robinson is hot in pursuit, he’s no athletic match for Mahomes.
Two plays later, the Chiefs would score a touchdown to take a four-point lead. If the Lions get the stop here, it’s a tie game instead.
5. Protection breakdown on third-and-7
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Lions faced a crucial third-and-7 at midfield down just four.
The Chiefs dialed up an aggressive blitz, sending seven men towards Matthew Stafford at the snap. The Lions were actually well-equipped to block on this play, hugging two tight ends close to the line to have seven players in pass protection.
However, there was a clear miscommunication between Taylor Decker and tight end Jesse James.
It’s hard to know who exactly is at fault here. Regardless of what Decker and James would have done, there would have been a free rusher coming from the offense’s left side, suggesting the Lions should have—at the very least—slid protection. Whoever is to blame, this turned out to be a wasted possession that was close to at least three points.
6. Failed fourth down stop
The Chiefs took a gamble by calling a second timeout prior to this fourth-and-8 play. A failed conversion meant the game was essentially over. The Lions could run out all but 10 seconds of the clock.
But Mahomes came and save the day:
Coverage, again, is pretty solid here. The Lions only send three, though, giving Mahomes plenty of room to run, if he pleases. But Detroit helps him out with a coverage breakdown. For some reason, Christian Jones collapses down on Chiefs running back Darrel Williams, when it’s clear that safety Tavon Wilson was already on him.
This wasn’t a case of intended double coverage, as Jones seemed to be playing zone (or perhaps QB spy) prior to jumping this route. Even if Jones was playing spy, it would’ve been a hard ask to get to Mahomes in time from where he was standing, but this was still a critical breakdown from the Lions defense.
7. Justin Coleman’s near game-sealing interception
You can’t fault the guy from dropping this one, as it would have been a spectacular play. Coleman does a brilliant job turning to find the ball and was damn close to making a one-handed snag. Credit, too, to Jarrad Davis for bringing the pressure and forcing the ill-advised throw.
It was that close.