After coming out strong, Lions 45-28 playoff loss is a tough pill to swallow

Posted Jan 8, 2012

Saturday's loss to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs was all about missed opportunities for the Lions, especially on defense.

The Lions dropped three interceptions, allowed the Saints big plays on offense and failed to stop them on third and fourth down.

That's the trifecta of failure against an offense as good as the Saints'.

All of it led to a 45-28 loss in New Orleans as the Lions are one-and-done in the playoffs.

"When you face a team like that, you have to be able to take advantage of those opportunities," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "You have to be able to get off the field on the third downs and the fourth downs. We were awful on third and fourth down."

The Lions were awful across the board on defense.

The Saints set an NFL postseason record with 626 total yards as quarterback Drew Brees marched them up and down the field, especially in the second half.

The Saints converted three fourth-down conversions and were 7-of-11 (64 percent) on third down.

Saturday was a tale of two different halves for the Lions.

After forcing two turnovers and holding the Saints to a field goal instead of a touchdown right before the half, the Lions led 14-10 at the halftime.

But the Saints scored on their first five possessions of the second half and the Lions offense couldn't keep up a game that looked more like a track meet. The Saints became only the seventh team in NFL history to not attempt a punt in a playoff game.

This was thanks, in part, to Saints quarterback Drew Brees completing 33 of his 43 pass attempts for 466 yards and three touchdowns.

"I just think we have to learn how to take punches," said linebacker DeAndre Levy. "We were in a fight and they came out and hit a big play on us and it went downhill from there.

"We blew a couple coverages and gave them some wide-open plays and from there it just kind of trickled down. We looked like a young, inexperienced team."

The only possession the Saints didn't score on in the second half was the game's final drive in which Brees took a knee inside the Lions' 10-yard line to end the game.

But as bad as the Lions were on defense, they were still within striking distance in the fourth quarter because of the play of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson.

Johnson set an NFL Wild Card playoff record with 12 catches and 211 yards. He also had two scores.

Johnson finished the season with three 200-yard receiving performances in his last four games.

"It stings still, we just came off the field," Johnson said of the loss. "But looking forward to next year, we've got a lot of positive things to build on. A lot of things to be corrected, but things are correctable. There's a light at the end of this tunnel."

The Lions only trailed 24-21 at the start of the fourth quarter before a sequence of plays completely changed the course of the game.

The Saints capped off a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a Darren Sproles 17-yard touchdown run to take a 10-point lead with 9:58 left in the game.

Stafford then threw an interception on the Lions' next offensive play. He was trying to hit Titus Young on a fly route but put too much air under it and Saints corner Jabari Greer had an easy pick.

The Saints hit on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brees to receiver Robert Meachem four plays later and all of the sudden the Lions went from down three to down 17.

They never got the momentum back.

Stafford was 28-of-43 passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns but didn't stand a chance with little help from the defense.

Together, the teams combined for 1,038 yards of offense, which set an NFL playoff record.

The fact that the Lions didn't come out of the locker room to play in the second half has to be a tough pill to swallow after a 10-win season that qualified them for their first playoff appearance since 1999.

"I think we feel like we just didn't play our best game and then ... with this opportunity on this stage, you're frustrated and it hurts and (I) think that's the right feeling, the right emotion right now," said Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.

"I hope this hurts. We've got a ton of character - a ton of really good players - and this team will be back."