Lions Still Clinging To NFC North Lead After Bad Loss
By David Noto
A deflated Detroit Lions team better have a short memory if it wants any chance of winning a huge NFC North division home game against the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day.
After a stinging 24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, there’s word of a “players-only meeting” this coming week to address several issues. The team had a -5 turnover differential against the Bucs. So we have an idea of what they’ll talk about. Though Matthew Stafford must take his share of responsibility with a season-high four picks, the lack of execution is the biggest issue. Detroit showed more inconsistency in all three phases of the game and could not take advantage of missed opportunities, including two failed late-game field goal attempts by Tampa Bay kicker Rian Lindell.
What have really haunted the Lions are momentum-changing plays at ill-timed moments.
The team was cooking up a big drive while leading 14-10 with a minute left in the second quarter when Stafford threw a pick-six that sailed over the head of TE Brandon Pettigrew. As a result, they went into the locker room down 17-14 and put up a sloppy performance in the second half. Detroit similarly lost momentum the previous week when they botched a fake field goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers. So another major factor is questionable decision making, whether it’s from a player or the coaching staff. A huge error this game on Jim Schwartz’s part was the use of a timeout right before Stafford's last interception, something that eliminated the Lions' chance to have one more possession in the closing seconds.
Recently, Detroit has not shown the stability of a playoff contender. And with five games left on the schedule, the teams who are ready to go deep into the postseason are the ones who “get hot” at the right time. For the Lions, that time is now. But if they can’t pull it together, fingers will rightfully be pointed at the coaches. All 53 players are healthy now. And when you drop a home game to a team with a losing record who lost shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis before the end of the first half, your personnel is not properly prepared.
On a positive note, Detroit is 6-5 and still controls its own destiny in the NFC North because of a tiebreaker advantage over Chicago (6-5). But there’s no room for error because the Packers are also knocking at the door with a 5-5-1 record. They’re also fortunate to see the return of wide receiver Nate Burleson, who was sidelined since Week 3 with a broken forearm. Burleson was a big contributor in Sunday’s loss with 7 receptions, 77 yards and a touchdown. However, Calvin Johnson is still obviously going to be a big key going forward. He just needs to hold on to the ball at key moments. Though Megatron put up decent numbers against the Bucs with 7 receptions and 115 yards, he dropped a key pass on the last drive that led to a game-sealing interception for Tampa Bay.