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I usually like to have a lot of fun with this column, mixing in silly memes and jokes to wrap up the latest Lions game with a bit of fun. This week demanded a more subdued tone.
Nearly 100% of the focus of fans and talking heads of Sunday’s 30-26 Lions loss to the Atlanta Falcons has been on the final 12 seconds. The Lions scored; they didn’t score. Golden Tate’s leg was down; his leg wasn’t down. They could have gotten a play off; they couldn’t have gotten the play off. It was eight seconds; it was 11 seconds.
The NFL replay officials had the final say, calling Tate down by contact outside the end zone. Since the clock should have been running, and the Lions had no timeouts, it triggered an automatic 10-second runoff. That, in turn, triggered another round of fan complaints.
The NFL is rigged; they have it out for the Lions; this would never happen to the Patriots or the Cowboys; every weird rule goes against the Lions; the referees hate us; we never get a favorable call; we’re cursed.
Fans have used every excuse in the book for that loss the Falcons. They blamed everyone except the one group of people that were actually responsible for the loss: the Detroit Lions.
Stop making excuses for this franchise. Stop letting them off the hook. By blaming everything other than the Lions themselves, you take away all their culpability. Staying close to a great team should never be good enough. Moral victories are never celebrated by champions. If you ever want this moribund franchise to figure out how to win consistently in this league, you have to stop enabling them.
Is anyone calling Matthew Stafford out? He was all over the place in this game. He would show some beautiful touch on one pass, then drill a pass right off the shoulder pads on the next, or throw one off his receiver’s back hip. Zero consistency.
He certainly wasn’t helped out by those receivers. Eric Ebron was the biggest culprit, dropping pass after pass, especially in the fourth quarter. However, Marvin Jones and T.J. Jones had their moments as well. Even when they started moving the ball, somnolence would commit a stupid penalty and stall everything. I am looking at you, T.J. Lang.
How about the genius of James Robert Cooter? What happened to his innovative offense? They managed one touchdown the entire game and were just 3-for-13 on third down. Their running backs managed a measly 52 yards on 17 touches for an anemic 3 yards per carry. The offensive line did pretty well in the passing game, but they couldn’t create a rushing lane through a wet paper bag. Despite that, they were still ineptly running the ball and watching the clock run in the fourth quarter when they were trying to come back. That’s OK, though, it’s not like they would need any of those seconds later in the game.
Want more proof on how awful the offense was? They started a drive on the Atlanta 21-yard line and settled for a Matt Prater field goal. Good teams don’t do that. On their first two drives in the fourth quarter while trailing by seven points they managed a total of four yards and two punts. Good teams don’t do that, either.
The defense did indeed stand up in the fourth quarter, and the only reason the game was close enough at the end for there to be a meaningful final play was because of their three interceptions. However, don’t think they are getting out of this unscathed. The D allowed the Falcons to score on six of their first nine drives. The defense, which was among the NFL’s best after the first two weeks, somehow forgot to stay in their lanes, but they made up for it by not tackling. How many times were Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman hit near the line of scrimmage, only to wiggle away for a 5, 10, or 20-yard gain? They combined for 152 yards rushing and added another 75 yards on six receptions.
Sunday afternoon was an endless parade of mistakes. If not for the final play, that is all that we would be talking about today. However, since that is what everyone wants to discuss, allow me to point out that it should never have happened.
It is Jim Caldwell’s responsibility to make sure that his players, coordinators, and coaches are all ready for every possible situation. With such little time left and no timeouts, Cooter needs to call plays that can only result in a touchdown or an incomplete pass. That is why they correctly never even considered running the ball in that spot. However, not a single route should be run that is not in the end zone prior to the ball being thrown. Even a 1% chance that a receiver gets tackled in the field of play is too great a chance to take.
With that being said, the ultimate responsibility is Stafford’s. He should have either waited until Tate could only make the catch in the end zone or he should have just thrown it away and try again on fourth down.
These are the things that fans should be focused on after this game, not trying to find someone outside of this team to blame for the loss.
The final play may be getting all the focus, but it was just another piece of the puzzle that resulted in a self-inflicted Lions loss.
Lions Leftovers is the weekly post-game commentary from Detroit Sports Nation contributor Rob Otto