The moment of rejoicing that Sunday football was back lasted a nice three hours before that all too familiar feeling sunk in yet again. Are we being treated to football, or are we trapped by it?
The Detroit Lions lost to the Chicago Bears in what felt like a rerun of many games we were treated to last year. The Lions got out to a healthy lead, sat on it, made some pretty stupid mistakes along the way, then slowly watched it fade away.
For the past few years now, I’ve joined team “Close Games Are Mostly Random, So If You Sucked At Them One Year, You’ll Be Better Next Year.” But I’m starting to think about abandoning that ship. This no longer feels like the Lions rolling snake eyes 10 times in a row. This feels like they’re playing with weighted dice, and the coaching staff is the one self-sabotaging.
Here are my grades for the Lions’ 27-23 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Overall, I thought Matthew Stafford was pretty solid for most of the game. He threw a dart on a third-and-17 to keep a drive alive. For most of the game, he did a good job evading the Bears’ pass rush and managed the game quite well.
Unfortunately, he also made two critical errors. If he avoids even one of those, the Lions probably win the game. He took an unnecessary sack that turned a good situation—second-and-8 from the Bears 33—to a desperate one—third-and-17 from the 42. After a 5-yard gain to make up half of the lost yardage, the Lions missed a 55-yard field goal.
Then there was the interception that led to the game-winning score. While I understand Stafford is the kind of player who will always make that pass—over-trusting his own arm to beat tight coverage—this was not the time for that risk. Dump it off to Danny Amendola and hope he can get the 5 yards of necessary YAC.
Then again, Stafford also had a game-winning touchdown pass. Unfortunately, the Lions simply didn’t have a game-winning touchdown catch. Which leads us to...
Running backs: C
This is a tricky one, because the individual grades are probably more telling here. D’Andre Swift, playing the Theo Riddick role in his first NFL game, didn’t have much of an impact on the game. Six touches, 23 yards and a goal-line score. Oh... and that dropped game-winning touchdown. Kerryon Johnson rushed for just 14 yards on seven carries. Those two are weighing down the Lions’ most recent addition: Adrian Peterson.
Peterson was the best player on the field for the Lions. He rushed for 93 yards on just 14 carries (6.6 YPC) and it was clear he was the best back on the team despite just a week of practice. The only real blemish on his day was a failed third-and-1 run, but otherwise, he was what the Lions rushing attack appears to have been missing for years.
Wide receivers: D+
Early in this game, you could really tell the Lions were missing Kenny Golladay. Stafford would sit in the pocket for seconds on end going through his first, second and sometimes third read before either throwing it away or trying to do something with his feet.
Aside from trucking a rookie, Marvin Jones Jr. was invisible. Marvin Hall caught a single pass. Quintez Cephus had a couple of nice catches, but only hauled in three when he was targeted 10 times.
There weren’t any egregious mistakes here, but for a group that was praised for their depth and their playmaking ability, we didn’t see either of those things on display on Sunday.
Tight ends: B+
T.J. Hockenson was solid, despite one holding penalty when he was tasked with blocking Khalil Mack. His five catches, 56 yards and one touchdown felt like a statement after an ankle injury shortened his disappointing rookie season.
Jesse James was quiet, but it appears he may be relegated to more of a blocking role this year, anyways.
Offensive line: A-
That Bears defensive front is no joke, so I’m grading on a bit of a curve here. Aside from some struggles for backup tackle Tyrell Crosby, I thought this unit actually performed quite well. They only allowed one sack on the day—and it wasn’t even their fault. And the team rushed for 4.8 yards per carry against a helluva front seven.
The left side of the line was especially impressive, as Peterson found plenty of running room between Taylor Decker and Joe Dahl.
If there’s one positive to take from this game, it’s that the offensive line could actually hold up this year.
Defensive line: F
No pressure. Rushing lanes as wide as I-75. Da’Shawn Hand, Nick Williams, Romeo Okwara and Danny Shelton combined, COMBINED for five tackles. Let’s put it this way: T.J. Hockenson and punter Jack Fox had the same amount of tackles as Williams, Hand and Okwara.
There’s not a lot of good nor bad things to say about this unit. Obviously, the ejection of Jamie Collins Sr. was a boneheaded play, even if it didn’t look like the crime matched the punishment. As a result, the Lions’ linebacking corps looked identical to last year. No playmakers among the group who just kind of let the game happen to them.
This may seem like a tough grade when the Lions secondary suffered most of their damage in the fourth quarter—after Justin Coleman, Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah were out of the game. I mean, look at this split from Trubisky:
Through 3 quarters:— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) September 14, 2020
Trubisky: 12-of-26, 153 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, QB rating: 65.1
8-of-10, 89 yards, 3 TDs, QB rating: 143.3
But was there really anything about the performance of Coleman and Trufant in the first half that made you confident in this secondary? The difference in the first three quarters and the last one didn’t seem like a personnel issue, it seemed like a quarterback finally figuring things out. Mitchell Trubisky was horrible in the first three quarters and then he wasn’t. He had open receivers early in the game, but missed them; I’m not giving Detroit any credit for that.
Special teams: B-
Jack Fox was good, if not great, in his debut. Jamal Agnew had both a good punt and kickoff return. On the bad side, the Lions did give up a 45-yard kickoff return and Matt Prater missed a critical 55-yard field goal. However, that’s no chip shot. Overall, it was a promising day for Brayden Coombs’ unit.
It has to be an F, right? This Lions team took their foot off the pedal, again. When the Lions offense finally got going in the third quarter, it was because they started challenging the defense with play action and down field passes. Look at their most successful drives:
12 total plays. 7 passes. Two deep shots.
Now let’s look at their fourth quarter drives with a lead.
15 plays. 7 passes. Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad.... except the Lions never tested the Bears once downfield. All short passes. All with the purpose of just trying to barely get the first down. No real attempts to score points. No real attempts to embody “Dagger Time.” They were playing against the clock, not the Bears.
And then there’s this:
Mitch Trubisky said the Lions did a good job of mixing up coverages early in the game, but...— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) September 13, 2020
"When they got down to the wire, they’re going to play what they trust most and that’s man for them. And we knew that."
Never change, Matt Patricia.
I know personnel made it tough to be versatile at the end of the game. I know in the end the players have to make the plays. But at the beginning of the fourth quarter, this team was in a position where a couple mistakes shouldn’t have cost them the game. They were up plenty, and they could’ve stayed that way had they kept the foot on the gas.
We knew they weren’t going to. We knew it was going to make the game closer than it should’ve been. And then the players did the rest.
Matt Patricia may have shown some growth off the field, being more affable with the media and a little looser on TV. He may have learned some lessons about how he treats his players in the locker room or in team meetings. But he’s not budging from his in-game philosophy, and it cost the Lions another close game on Sunday.