The Detroit Lions defense needed a stop. The Chicago Bears, down one, were already in field goal position with time dwindling down in the fourth quarter. Facing a third-and-9, a first down would give Chicago a fresh set of downs, enough opportunities to bleed the remaining time on the clock, and the opportunity for a chip-shot field goal to win the game.
As the Bears broke the huddle Lions defenders were trying to communicate with each other as Ford Field fans showered the stadium with noise. Right before Bears quarterback Andy Dalton snapped the ball, referees stopped the play, because the Lions had called a timeout.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t allowed. The Lions had just called a timeout after the previous play. Officials are told to ignore back-to-back timeout requests, but if the ref does accidentally stop the play, the team is penalized 5 yards and they lose the second timeout.
That gave the Bears a much easier third-and-4 play, which they proceed to convert. They would run out the rest of the clock, and Cairo Santos’ 28-yard field goal gave the Bears the win and the Lions’ their 10th loss of the season.
Afterward, head coach Dan Campbell explained what went wrong on that critical double timeout.
“Obviously, you can’t do that, but we had (a) miscommunication,” Campbell said. “Half our secondary had one call, half had the other, so, yeah, banged a timeout.”
If you’re wondering how the Lions secondary could have such a communications blunder coming out of a timeout, Campbell said it was because there was a check at the line, and not everyone saw or heard it. And based on what Campbell was seeing, he was fearing the Lions were about to give up a go-ahead touchdown.
“The first thing in my head is, ‘Well, we’ve got a blown coverage and they’re about to score a touchdown,’’’ Campbell said. “So I do it, which you can’t do, and now it’s a penalty, but I knew he threw it out in the flat, and that was about to be a touchdown.”
An argument could be made that allowing a touchdown was a better result than taking a 5-yard penalty there. There was still 1:54 left in the game on that critical play, and Detroit would’ve gotten the ball back with ample time to tie or win the ballgame, depending on if the Bears convert a hypothetical two-point conversion. However, with the penalty, the Lions still had an opportunity to make a stop on a third-and-4 and only need a field goal to win. Instead, though, Bears receiver Damiere Byrd caught a 7-yard pass with relative ease, clinching the ball game.
Campbell is going to hear a lot of criticism for Detroit’s performance on Thursday. Not only was the double timeout a bad look in a critical moment of the game, but the Lions also seemed to caution on the side of conservatism again, and the team was flagged for 10 penalties that were extremely costly, especially on offense.
“We had too many penalties today, but the penalties—some teams can overcome them, some can’t. We can’t overcome the penalties right now that we’re getting,” Campbell said.