O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: As improbable as it was, the Lions won 31-30 on Sunday

Posted Oct 27, 2013

Mike O'Hara on the missed opportunities, turnovers and more in the Lions' 31-30 win over the Cowboys

Burning questions – turnovers, missed opportunities, a challenge flag and a small penalty went against the Lions, and they still came away with a 31-30 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.

Q. How did they put themselves in the hole, and how did they get out of it?

A. My smart-aleck answer should be something like, "How the heck would anyone know?"

Maybe the answer is nothing more than "it’s about time."

And it is. But the answer is that the stars came out the way they’re supposed to. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson led the last improbable drive – 80 yards to the winning TD, when they got the ball back with 1:02 left.

There was a 17-yard pass to Johnson, a 40-yard pass to Kris Durham, then 22-yards to Calvin to the one-yard line.

Stafford took care of the TD with a leap from the one.

Improbable it was, but the Lions are the new heroes in town heading into their bye.>

Q. The Lions won the statistical battle by a wide margin but almost lost the game. What put them in the hole.

A. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

Q. Why say it four times?

A. Because four turnovers ruined the game for the Lions. Stafford had two passes intercepted, and Reggie Bush and Johnson both lost fumbles. All four turnovers came in the Cowboys’  territory, and when the Lions were driving and in good position to score.

There were other plays – including giving up an eight-yard sack by Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher when the Lions had first down at their 33 on their last possession – but the turnovers were gigantic.

The Cowboys didn’t play great, but they didn’t give the ball away, either. They have to be shaking their heads all the way home.

Q.  What were the situations on the turnovers?

A. As follows:

Second quarter -- Second and third at the 43, pass meant for Johnson deflected and intercepted.

Second quarter -- Third and five at the Cowboys’ 27, pass meant for Jeremy Ross intercepted by Sean Lee and returned to the Lions’ four to set up a TD pass.

Third quarter – First down at the Cowboys’ 44,  Bush lost a fumble at the end of a nine-yard run.

Third quarter – Second and nine at the Lions’ 48, Johnson lost a fumble after a 21-yard catch to the Cowboys’ 31.

Without even calculating how many points the Lions cost themselves, the turnovers led to 10 points for the Cowboys. And an offside against Ndamukong Suh led to three more.

There were other plays and other chances in what turned out to be a thrilling game – especially for the result for Lions fans.

Q. Aggressive -- going for it: In the first quarter, the Lions had fourth and goal at the Cowboys’ two-yard line and went for it. Stafford hit Johnson with a two-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead. It was a bold, aggressive call by Schwartz. Was it the right call?

A. I’ll repeat the first statement – it was a bold, aggressive call. Was it right? It’s hard to argue with results, but it’s not what I’d have done. With first and goal at the three, they’d been stuffed on two running plays by Bush. One gained a yard. The other was no gain. A third-down pass was incomplete when Stafford was rushed and had to roll out.

On fourth down, the book said take the field goal and a 3-0 lead. Instead, they went for the TD and threw it to the franchise.

It looked like head coach Jim Schwartz was sending a message by going for it.

Q. What message did he send?

A. To be aggressive. It showed in some other ways.

Q. Challenge flag – was that an aggressive call?: Early in the second quarter, Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams caught a pass in front of the Lions’ bench. The catch would have made it third-and-one at the 47, but Schwartz threw the challenge flag, claiming Williams bobbled the ball.

The call was reversed, making it third-and-six. Was it worth the challenge?

A. Yes. It looked like Schwartz was sending a message early – that the Lions weren’t going to give the Cowboys anything. Schwartz won the challenge, making it third and six instead of third and one. The Cowboys wound up punting.

Q. Bush-whacked: The Lions were driving with their first possession when Reggie Bush lost the ball. He had a nine-yard gain, and the ball rolled forward to the 27, where former Lion Justin Durant recovered. It was a strange turnover by Bush. What happened?

A. Bush was stiff-arming a Cowboys defender with his right hand while holding the ball away from his body with his left, and it got knocked loose. He should have secured the ball. It’s as simple as that. It was a good run, and the Lions were in Cowboys’ territory – again.

And they gave away a scoring opportunity – again.

Q. Another “little” thing. What did an offside penalty against Ndamukong Suh in the first half mean?

A. First of all, there are no “little” things. Punts and extra points are little things – until you miss one or shank one.

Same thing with an offside. It’s not just the five measly yards. It’s the situation. In this situation, it was third-and-seven at the Lions’ 40. Tony Romo’s pass was incomplete, but Suh was lined up at left end and he flinched, entering the neutral zone.

The five yards put the ball at the 35. After another incomplete pass, the Cowboys kicked a 53-yard field goal. The question is whether they would have tried it from 58 yards or punted.

Q. Bottom line: The Lions dropped to 5-3. What’s the most disappointing thing about the way they ended the first half of the season?

A. Easy choice. They came home with a 4-2 record to play two straight games at Ford Field. It was a prime opportunity to make a stand – beat Cincinnati and Dallas to get to 6-2, or split and hit the bye at 5-3.

They’ll take the split. Gladly.