MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Lions couldn't get out of their own way in a 24-21 loss to Bucs

Posted Nov 24, 2013

Despite being in position to win the game, the Lions made too many mistakes and ultimately dropped a game they should have won

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions in a 24-21 loss to Tampa Bay. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

What was unthinkable has become an unforgettable game that ranks with some of the Lions' most painful losses in recent history.

Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs can be cut and dissected many ways, but the undeniable result is that a last-place team came to Ford Field and made the Lions look like they were strangers in their own home.

A week ago, the Lions bemoaned the fact that they'd played one quarter of good football in a 37-27 loss at Pittsburgh.

Against the Bucs, 15 minutes of sustained good ball would have won the game. There was no business losing to a Bucs team that had a 2-8 record going into the game.

The Lions had flashes of good play – and way more of them were on defense than offense – but they didn't do anything well enough to avoid losing their second straight game. They dropped to 6-5 and remained tied for first place in the NFC North with the Bears, 42-21 losers at St. Louis on Sunday.

And the long shadow of the Green Bay Packers hovers more darkly over all in the NFC North after their 26-26 tie with the Vikings. They've crept back into contention in the North and bring a 5-5-1 record to Ford Field as the Lions' opponent in Thursday's traditional Thanksgiving Day game.

The sprint to the finish is getting shorter for the Lions as the odds against them winning the North seem to get longer because of their mistake-prone play the last two weeks.

The mood in the Lions' locker room after Sunday's game was one of shock and frustration – and wonder as to how things have gone wrong so quickly at such a pivotal time.

"You can't explain it," Coach Jim Schwartz said. "It was a poor performance. There is so much on the line, and there is still a lot on the line. As disappointing and as bitter of a loss this is, we have a short turnaround to bounce back.

"We have a five-game season. This does not eliminate us from the playoffs. It doesn't do anything other than make the last five games even more urgent."

The question the Lions have to answer – more for themselves than anyone else – is whether they have the mettle and makeup required to survive a playoff run.

Every unit had a major breakdown Sunday, but no breakdown was more improbable than the last one that sealed the loss.

On third and 12 from the Bucs' 28, Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson at the Bucs' five for what appeared to be a catch with 50 seconds left. But as Johnson cradled the ball on his body above his left hip, it was popped loose when he was hit by Kelcie McCray.

Rookie Johnthan Banks caught the ball for an interception with 50 seconds left.

A catch by Johnson would have put the Lions in position for at least a tying field goal and perhaps a winning touchdown. Instead, they got more gloom.

"It was just a bang-bang play," Johnson said. "I wanted to turn up, get up-field, and as soon as I did, the dude was right there. I don't know if he got his hands on the ball or whatever, but it just came out."

It was one of four interceptions by Stafford. Three were inside the Bucs' 30-yard line, when the Lions were in position to score critical points.

For the most part the defense played well enough to win – with one gigantic breakdown. In the third quarter, cornerback Chris Houston was beaten for an 85-yard TD catch by Tiquan Underwood.

Houston did not speak to reporters after the game. Schwartz was asked what broke down on the play.

"The breakdown was, we gave up a long touchdown pass," Schwartz said.

There were other miscues.

Kris Durham lost a fumble on the Lions' next-to-last possession in the fourth quarter after a sideline reception.

A fourth-quarter punt by Sam Martin was blocked by the Bucs' Danny Gorrer, who got a clean release off the line and came in untouched from Martin's right.

The Lions caught a break when Rian Lindell was wide with both field goal attempts after the punt block and Durham's fumble.

There was no saving the Lions from their other mistakes.

Stafford threw three TD passes, but the interceptions were costly.

Stafford had pick No. 2 returned 48 yards for a touchdown by Leonard Johnson for a 17-14 Bucs lead with 50 seconds left in the first half. Stafford said he pulled the trigger too soon on a pass intended for tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

Stafford also questioned himself for an interception on a first-down throw at the Bucs' 25 in the third quarter. Stafford was looking at Johnson in the end zone and probably should have thrown the ball away.

"That was not the best decision," Stafford said.

Ndamukong Suh summed up the mood of the team – and the situation is has put itself in.

"I don't think our team by any means took them lightly," Suh said. "I just feel like we made too many mistakes obviously to win the game.

"We got what we deserved.”