MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: With so much at stake, and so much to gain, this letdown is hard to explain

Posted Dec 8, 2013

Call it lack of killer instinct, or performing under pressure, but the Lions are notorious for letting an opponent off the hook

PHILADELPHIA– It’s hard to imagine a meltdown on a day when the temperature was below freezing and the playing field was covered by several inches of snow, but that’s exactly what happened to the Lions in their latest attempt to take a step closer to winning the NFC North title.

DeAndre LevyLB DeAndre Levy (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

A 14-point lead against the Philadelphia Eagles disappeared faster than a snowman in a spring rainstorm.

It was like Frosty the Snowman went surfing on the Big Island. That quick, there was nothing left of a 14-0 lead that took almost 39 minutes for the Lions to build and less than half that time for the Eagles to erase.

The Eagles deserve credit for what they did in turning a 14-0 deficit into 34-20 victory over the Lions at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.

But give the Lions credit for the loss, too -- for what they did to themselves, and what they let the Eagles do in a 28-point fourth quarter that sent the Lions reeling on the way back to Detroit their third loss in the last four games.

There is no guarantee that they’ll be in first place alone in the North beyond the Monday Night TV game between the Bears and Cowboys.

The Lions are still first in the North with a 7-6 record. The Bears, at 6-6, can tie the Lions by beating the Cowboys. Lurking in third place are the Green Bay Packers, who rallied Sunday to beat the Falcons and make their record 6-6-1.

With three games left – home against the Ravens and Giants and the season finale at Minnesota – the Lions are desperate to find a way to play with the consistency required of a team that has what it takes to win a division title.

The Lions have not shown that. They’ve lost three of their last four games, and their collapse against the Eagles could be a season-wrecker. It was a game that they appeared to have won.

If the yards and points the Eagles rolled up in the second half weren’t alarming enough, the comments of linebacker DeAndre Levy had to be.

“We played soft in the second half,” Levy said, speaking in measured, reasoned tones. “We can’t have that. Obviously, we know it’s a big game. It’s a big situation.

“We didn’t take advantage of the moment.”

With so much at stake, and so much to gain, it’s hard to explain why a team would have a letdown – especially leading 8-0 at halftime and boosting it to 14-0 in the third quarter.

Levy had no explanation.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “It’s on us, as veteran leaders of this team, to keep guys going for four quarters.”

From this vantage point, I don’t think the Lions gave up and deliberately relaxed in the second half. But something was missing, and it’s happened in other games this year and in other seasons.

Call it lack of killer instinct, or performing under pressure, but the Lions are notorious for letting an opponent off the hook. They did it before this season with the Cardinals, Bengals and Steelers.

The Lions had a hand in their own demise. They had seven fumbles, losing three, and they were penalized nine times. The Eagles had one turnover, on an interception, and only one penalty.

For most of the first half, the Lions had the Eagles’ stymied. They held the Eagles to 90 yards in the first half. But in the second half, the Lions couldn’t stop the most basic running plays. The Eagles exploded for 388 yards in the second half, with 244 coming on the ground.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis did not fully agree with Levy’s assessment about being soft, but something was missing in the second half.

“If you’re able to execute in the first half, you should be able to do it in the second half,” Mathis said.

Playing conditions were difficult, but the Eagles found a way to overcome them. The victory made them 8-5 and in first place alone in the NFC East, pending the outcome of the Bears-Cowboys game. The Cowboys are 7-5.

The Lions and Eagles both had to contend with the same snowing conditions and a field that was made slick by a snowfall that began 90 minutes before kickoff and did not let up until the second half.

While the Lions spun their wheels and misfired, the Eagles cavorted in a winter wonderland. They had an incredible 388-88 advantage over the Lions in yards gained in the second half.

The failure wasn’t all on the Lions’ defense, either. At any level of football, the center exchange is the basic play on offense. The Lions misfired on it five times and lost the ball once, on a crucial fourth-quarter fumble when they were in position to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion.

On first down at the Eagles’ 24, Matthew Stafford was signaling to change the formation when Dominic Raiola inexplicably snapped the ball. The ball hit him near the right shoulder, and the Eagles’ recovered at the 40.

From there, they drove to a touchdown that closed out the scoring.

One bright spot for the Lions was the play of Jeremy Ross on special teams. He returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns. Coach Jim Schwartz remarked that Ross was their only offense after the first half.

There was no attempt at humor in Schwartz’s comment.

Regrettably for the Lions, it was the truth.