A gut punch if there ever was one, the Detroit Lions fell to the Chicago Bears in disappointing fashion.
Losing to a team more interested in chasing draft picks than the playoffs is one thing, but the Lions were outmatched in every facet. The offense put up a mere 13 points, all of which came exclusively in the second quarter. The defense, meanwhile, continues its struggles, giving up deep shots and failing to contain a scrambling Justin Fields. Coupled with some questionable calls from coaches and officials, and it was a recipe for failure on Sunday.
The Lions are still in good position to reach the playoffs at 9-4, but there are serious issues in need of correcting if they want to make the most of a playoff race. Let’s examine some takeaways.
Tired of the Turd Quarter
The notion of the Lions’ woes in the third quarter is not a new concept, but we are in Week 14 and it remains a weekly problem. This week’s edition of the Turd Quarter especially hurt. The Lions offense had three-straight three-and-outs, but those were surprisingly the best parts of the quarter.
Instead, the drama is focused on the Bears touchdown drive and the ensuing chaos. After the defense stepped up to force a third-and-13, Julian Okwara seemingly got to Justin Fields for a sack to force a punt. However, Fields was barely able to get the pass off in time, throwing it into his lineman’s ankles.
An easy intentional grounding penalty, no?
On third and long, this was ruled an incomplete pass….and not intentional grounding. Bears scored the next play. What are officials doing. pic.twitter.com/vGePxszMNC— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) December 10, 2023
Instead, the officials determined that “the hit affected the pass” and therefore was not intentional grounding. This call was mindboggling awful, and the Lions defense was just as mindboggled on the next play. The Bears would go for it on fourth down, and Aidan Hutchinson would jump offside for a free play. Jerry Jacobs got burnt by D.J. Moore for an easy touchdown and the Bears took the lead.
Worse yet, the call was blatantly wrong:
The damning part of the rulebook.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 10, 2023
The officials got it wrong. pic.twitter.com/oF6YFw3ZaM
To add to the misery, the Lions would fumble the snap on the following drive, setting the Bears up with great field position. The ensuing touchdown would officially come in the fourth quarter, but it was very much a product of the turd quarter.
I simply do not understand how the Lions can continually fail in the third quarter like this. How can you speculate about how to fix this issue? It isn’t as simple as making better halftime adjustments. The Lions are self-destructing in ways that no one can reasonably expect. All I can suggest is to burn some incense in the locker room since a curse is the only explanation I have.
The Ben Johnson honeymoon is over
Ben Johnson was seen as the guiding light in the surging Lions offense, but as of late, that luster is gone. The offense was stagnant against the Bears, and that might be generous. The execution on the field may have sunk the Lions, but the play calling was setting them up for failure. With Penei Sewell lined up out wide, Johnson telegraphed a screen play that amounted to very little. A Jahmyr Gibbs carry was stuffed for a loss of four on fourth down in a pivotal moment. The Lions continue to run the ball on long-distance downs.
Aside from a 13-point second quarter, the Lions were shut out. The Bears defense has improved in recent weeks, but for such an offense to get shut out for three quarters is unacceptable.
Penalties were a surprise issue for the Lions on Sunday. Entering the game as one of the least penalized teams in the league, Detroit hamstrung themselves with some untimely penalties.
The offensive line had four penalties: tripping on Graham Glasgow and false starts on Jonah Jackson, Penei Sewell, and Kayode Awosika. Jerry Jacobs had a bad pass interference penalty, coming right on the heels of a blown coverage the play before. The Lions were flagged for a delay of game after incorrectly judging the play clock and game clock at the end of the first quarter. Alex Anzalone, a leader on defense back from injury, had back-to-back penalties to extend a Bears drive. The first was a defensive holding, and the second was an unnecessary roughness penalty, perhaps stemming from frustration over the prior hold. Hutchinson had the aforementioned inexcusable false start on fourth-and-13, a free play that the Bears took full advantage with a Moore touchdown.
The Lions are not a good enough team to shoot themselves in the foot this often.
Games to forget for Goff and St. Brown
The Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown connection is usually elite, but both players were struggling against the Bears. Along with the botched snap, Goff had an airmailed arm punt on fourth down early in the game. Goff was also guilty of dinking and dunking for most of the game—his longest completion before garbage time was just 17 yards. He was playing whack-a-mole with a lot of his passes, underthrowing even simple dump-offs.
St. Brown, meanwhile, finished with a paltry 21 receiving yards, his fewest in a full game since Week 5 of 2022. St. Brown was guilty of at least two drops, as his nine targets resulted in just three receptions.
The Ragnow difference?
Frank Ragnow should be the frontrunner for the Lions’ Most Valuable Player. The offensive line without him is a shadow of its dominant self. Goff’s struggled in his own right, but the offensive line was not doing him many favors. Goff was sacked four times on the day, and there were plenty more instances where he had little time or space to work. Glasgow, subbing in at center for Ragnow, was guilty of multiple pressures and contributed to the fumbled snap (I cannot say for certain who was at fault, so both parties will be blamed).
The Lions run game stayed effective (David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs had 66 yards each), but when the Lions passing attack is struggling, the offense flounders. The Lions need to protect Goff, and Ragnow is key to achieving that.
John’s Turning Point: The missed intentional grounding penalty
I already covered it above, but this call changed the game. The Bears would have been punting in a 13-13 game. While the Lions had seriously underperformed, this game was still up for grabs.
The staggeringly wrong ruling by the officials gave the Bears new life on the drive, and the Lions’ problems snowballed. Hutchinson jumped for no reason, Jacobs got burnt, Goff and Glasgow botched the snap, and everything went downhill from there.
Yes, the Lions still imploded following the call, and that should not be excused. Yet, it’s obvious that this one mistake sent Detroit in a downward spiral.