MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: The Lions went from high expectations to even higher uncertainty

Posted Dec 22, 2013

Sunday's loss followed a familiar pattern: penalties, turnovers, failing in the clutch – it’s the common theme for a Lions team that had fourth-quarter leads in the last six games and went 1-5

It’s the skid that never ended for the Lions, a wretched downhill slide marked by turnovers, penalties and missed opportunities that cost them what once seemed a near-certain NFC North title and instead could have severe ramifications for coaches and players.

One game is left on the schedule – the regular-season finale next Sunday on the road against the Vikings – but the hot-stove league already has every burner blazing after Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants at Ford Field.

The Lions began Sunday needing help to keep their hopes alive to win and finish ahead of the Bears and Packers and win the North. A Packers loss to the Steelers and a Bears loss to the Eagles would have had the Lions playing the Vikings for the North title.

The Bears and Packers played their roles in the Lions’ dream equation, and it didn’t matter. The Lions provided the nightmare by losing to eliminate themselves from the race with a loss that dropped their record to 7-8 and ended their possibility of hosting a playoff game at Ford Field.

Josh Brown won it for the Giants with a 45-yard field goal on their second possession of overtime.

In the end, the Lions’ were done in by a collection of failings that tormented them in a six-week period that took them from a 6-3 record and a secure hold on first place to a doomed season and all the negative consequences that smother a team that has failed to meet realistic expectations.

Rob SimsG Rob Sims (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Guard Rob Sims, a steady performer most of the season, but with two costly holding penalties Sunday, did not have to dig deep to uncover his emotions from the finality of the loss.

"Terrible," Sims said. "It feels absolutely terrible."

Players are not sheltered from the speculation about their team. There have been reports in recent weeks that head coach Jim Schwartz could be fired, despite having two years left on his contract. There has been no comment from Lions management, and Schwartz has said consistently that his focus is on coaching the team.

But the talk is there, and Sims knows that when a head coach moves on, so does his staff – and so do many of his players.

"Some of the young guys haven’t felt it before," Sims said. "It’s going to be hard on a lot of people. It’s going to be hard on a lot of families.

"Some things are going to change. We’ll be ready for it."

Really, they have no choice. Ready or not, the offseason will descend on them with full force immediately after the last game.

Some issues involving the Lions are crystal clear and do not require an offseason review. They have too many turnovers, too many big penalties, and they aren’t able to close out games.

All of them contributed to losing to the Giants.

The Lions had three turnovers. Reggie Bush lost a fumble early – and later failed to catch a pass when he was in full stride with nothing but green turf and the end zone seats in front of him -- and Matthew Stafford had two passes intercepted.

Stafford’s second pick was a deflection off the left hand of rookie tight end Joseph Fauria. The ball ricocheted to safety Will Hill, who ran it back 38 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 20-all with 4:58 left in regulation.

Tigt end Joseph Fauria was open on the play, and Stafford threw on rhythm, with no pressure.

"Just tipped off his hands, I guess," said Stafford, who was understandably subdued after the game.

The defense was strong most of the time. At one point in the second half, the Giants had five straight possessions without gaining a first down.

Nick Fairley had a sack, a forced fumble and a safety when he tackled Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the end zone in the third quarter. It was the defensive  stops that led the way for the Lions to rally from a 13-3 deficit at halftime to an eventual 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

An interception by Glover Quin in the last minute of regulation stopped a Giants possession that had them in range of a game-winning field goal.

But it also was the defense that let the Giants escape from a second-and-20 situation on the drive to the winning field goal. A 15-yard completion to Jerrel Jernigan on a fourth-and-seven set up Brown’s winning field goal.

If Sunday’s game seemed to follow a familiar pattern, it’s because it did. Penalties, turnovers, failing in the clutch – it’s the common theme for a Lions team that had fourth-quarter leads in the last six games and went 1-5.

Now they go from high expectations to even higher uncertainty.

"I know we have a really good team here," Sims said. "We squandered an opportunity. This was the time to do it.

"We didn’t get it done."