It’s a short look back – only 12 months ago, when the Lions were one of the fresh faces on the NFL’s power grid with a 4-0 record built on a high-powered offense and a core of resilience.
They were winning games by any means necessary – score early and hang on, by blowouts, or come from behind with scintillating rallies that eventually got them to a 5-0 record on the way to a 10-6 finish.
Looking back won’t get the Lions out of their current predicament, but neither will continuing the level of play that left them stumbling away from Sunday’s game against the Vikings with a 20-13 loss at Ford Field.
It was a generally uninspired performance by the Lions, one that left them searching for answers in the post-game post mortems – and had their fans alternately groaning, booing and sitting in uneasy silence, hoping for a turnaround.
The Lions don’t have to wonder where they are in the standings. They are last in the NFC North, with a 1-3 record and three straight losses, and staring up at the Vikings, who are in first at 3-1.
By Coach Jim Schwartz’s estimate, they’ve earned their record.
“There’s a reason we’re 1-3, and it isn’t bad luck,” Schwartz said.
Right on with that. Bad luck hasn’t beaten the Lions – in Sunday’s game, or any other in the losing streak.
The Lions have not been sharp on a consistent basis at any point this season, and they’re giving away touchdowns and failing to take advantage of scoring opportunities. That's a bad combination, and they dialed it up to the extreme against the Vikings.
It was another example of how the offense has regressed from what was one of the NFL’s most potent units a year ago.
They were in the red zone three times Sunday and came away with only one touchdown.
The running game went nowhere against what Schwartz said were “good looks” – meaning the Vikings didn’t have a personnel advantage in the box.
The Vikings sacked Stafford five times. Jared Allen had a sack and two hits on Stafford, and he slaughtered the running game with three tackles for losses.
In this case, Jared went to the Lions – and he was a gem.
“We got our butts kicked up front,” Schwartz said. “We got sacked and couldn’t run the ball. Physically, we need to be able to do that better.”
The Vikings played 1980s-style football. They ran the ball to protect second-year quarterback Christian Ponder from having to win the game himself, played solid defense and capitalized on special teams with two touchdowns on returns.
If Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier had taped a prescription for victory on his team’s locker-room blackboard, it couldn’t have been more accurate than what transpired on the playing field.
Minnesota’s two touchdowns were on returns – 105 yards by Percy Harvin with the opening kickoff, and 77 yards by Marcus Sherels on a punt return in the first two minutes of the second half.
Combined with two field goals by Blair Walsh, the Vikings had a 20-6 lead with a little more than 28 minutes left in the game.
At that point, Detroit’s only points came on two field goals by
With a 14-point lead, the Vikings played what amounted to prevent offense. That meant give the ball to Adrian Peterson, who responded with 102 yards on 20 carries, and connect with an occasional big pass play.
“Once they got those scores, they played not to mess up,” said wide receiver
Most of the stats favored the Lions, but that was an illusion. When teams score in returns, it keeps their offense from getting a possession.
The Lions had a 23-15 edge in first downs and 341-227 in yards gained.
But the eye test – big plays and physical plays – clearly favored the Vikings.
Two fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter highlighted how the Vikings deserved to win.
The Lions had fourth-and-5 at the seven. On the third-down play, Stafford had to run from pressure and threw a desperation under-hand pass to avoid a sack.
On fourth down, defensive end Everson Griffen was on Stafford as he backpedaled and sacked him for a 10-yard loss.
On what proved to be the last play of the game – fourth-and-5 from the Lions’ 44 – Griffen got Stafford again for a loss of 11 as he tried to escape the rush.
It was an inglorious end to a frustrating day for the Lions.
They had hoped to rebound from last week’s overtime loss to the Titans with a victory that would send them into the upcoming bye with a 2-2 record.
Instead of resting on a spirits-lifting win, they have an extra week to stew over their predicament.
“Last week had nothing to do with this week,” said defensive end
“This is the NFL. Everybody’s tough.”