MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: The Lions did more than enough to beat themselves

Posted Dec 16, 2013

Third place is nowhere for a Lions team that was in command of the North five weeks ago with a 6-3 record

The Lions’ fall from first to third can’t be measured only by their place in the standings in the NFC North.

Their precipitous plummet from division leaders to also-rans can’t be calculated by the length of an incomprehensible 61-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that sent them reeling out of Ford Field after Monday night’s 18-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Barring some sort of comeback with two games left that the Lions do not seem capable of mounting, the loss to the Ravens was the knockout blow for their chance to win the North. With two games left, they’ve dropped to third place with a 7-7 record behind the Bears (8-6) and Packers (7-6-1).

Third place is nowhere for a Lions team that was in command of the North five weeks ago with a 6-3 record.

They had a chance to right a lot of wrongs and stay in first with a victory over the Ravens, but instead picked the wrong time to play some of their worst offensive football of the season.

Strangely, with the Ford Field crowd roaring much of the night, the Lions didn’t perform with the energy level that was not only expected, but that their circumstances demanded.

“No, there wasn’t,” said running back Reggie Bush, when asked if the Lions played with enough urgency. “It was pretty evident. When we needed to make plays, we just didn’t have them.”

The Ravens, who kept their hold on one of two wild-card berths in the AFC with their fourth straight victory to make their record 8-6, didn’t so anything spectacular. They didn’t score a touchdown, despite having three possessions in the red zone.

But what they didn’t do was beat themselves. And that’s why they’re the defending Super Bowl champs and likely on the way to a sixth straight playoff appearance under head coach John Harbaugh.

The Lions did more than enough to beat themselves. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had three more interceptions. And although the defense did not give up a touchdown, it hurt itself with some bad penalties in the secondary.

The winning margin was provided by one swing of Tucker’s right leg that sent the ball over the cross bar and barely inside the right upright with 38 seconds left. It was Tucker’s sixth field goal of the night out of six tries, and as the final line in the official box score, it represents the winning margin.

But in reality, the final blow was just more of what has happened to the Lions in their fall from being securely in first place in the NFC North with a 6-3 record to looking up at the division leaders and hoping for help to win their first division title since 1993.

It is almost surreal what has happened to the Lions since they left Chicago five weeks ago with a 21-19 victory that gave them a two-game sweep over the Bears and the 6-3 record that made a North title and a home game for the playoffs seem a certainty.

Five weeks later, this is that very same collection of players – but nowhere near the same team.

And with the skid come questions of job security – specifically the future of Jim Schwartz, who’s in his fifth season as head coach of the Lions and has one winning season and playoff appearance on his resume.

“The only assurance we need is we have games to play, and we’re one down in our division,” Schwartz said when asked about his job security near the of his postgame press conference.

“I mean, that’s the only thing we need to worry about. That’s the only thing we need to concern ourselves with right now.

“We need to find a way to come back with a win against the Giants, go on the road, beat the Vikings and, like I said, let the dust settle and see where that takes us.”

Schwartz said what you’d expect a coach in his position to say. With two games left, he can’t cash in the season, no matter how grim the future looks, or how seriously the team has been wounded by its collapse.

But the reality of the NFL is that jobs, reputations and division titles are won and lost in November and December, and the Lions have come up woefully short.

Sure, they can look at the 61-yard field goal that beat them as a miracle kick.

But just as surely, they can look at losses to the Steelers, Bucs, Eagles and Ravens as games they could have won and blew. The Lions had a fourth-quarter lead in all four games and didn’t close the deal on any of them.

Stafford seemed almost in shock as he spoke briefly to the media after the game.

“I certainly didn’t play my best game by any means,” he said.

He was asked if the Ravens adjusted their defense after the Lions scored on their first possession.

“Not really,” Stafford said. “I think some of the stuff that happened to us was just kind of self-inflicted – whether it be a drop or a sack or a missed pass, whatever it was.”