O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: How big was the blocked field goal in 27-24 loss?

Posted Oct 20, 2013

Columnist Mike O'Hara also looks at the punt that set the winning field goal, getting momentum back, benching a starter and more in the Lions' 27-24 loss at home to the Bengals

Burning questions – a field-goal block that changed momentum, a bad punt that set up the winning field goal, the Lions winning a challenge to get momentum back, benching a starter and other issues in the Lions’ 27-24 game loss to the Bengals at Ford Field on Sunday:

Q. How big was the blocked field goal by the Bengals late in the first half, and how did it affect the rest of the game?

A. It didn’t decide the game, because it’s hard for any play in the first half to be the difference in any game, but it changed it. It affected how both teams played the rest of the game.

It looked like the Lions had three points and a 13-7 lead when David Akers went out to attempt a 34-yard field goal with 2:30 left. All that changed in a flash. Carlos Dunlap came up the middle, to the left of Akers, for the block. Dre Kirkpatrick recovered for the Bengals and returned to the Lions’ 40.

From there, the Bengals drove to a touchdown – Andy Dalton’s 12-yard pass to Marvin Jones – and a 14-10 lead.

The exchange rocked the Lions. The Bengals got their lead to 21-10 before the Lions started a comeback that eventually tied the game at 24-all.

Q. Are special teams a problem for the Lions?

A. It’s been a problem on field-goal protection, and the punting game – a strength all season – let them down on Sam Martin’s last punt. It was a 28-yard shank and gave the ball to the Bengals at their 49 with 28 seconds left.

From there, they drove to the winning field goal – a 54-yard boot by Mike Nugent as time ran out.

The Lions also had a field-goal attempt blocked against Arizona in Game 2, but that meant nothing in Sunday’s game.

Q. Laying the blame: Could the whole blame for the game have gone on the blocked field goal?

A. No. There was plenty to go around, and the Bengals could look at plays they didn’t make that could have wasted that play.

On the possession that ended in the block, Matthew Stafford had receivers open downfield and couldn’t hit them. He had a hard time completing any deep balls in the first half.

In the fourth quarter, the Lions had first down at the Bengals’ 45 and wound up punting. Offensive pass interference against Brandon Pettigrew was the big play in that possession.

When it came down to needing an average punt – not even a great one – Martin couldn’t deliver.

Q. How did Stafford play?

A. He played OK, but Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton played better.

Q. Challenge: Coach Jim Schwartz has gotten mixed results throwing the challenge flag. He threw the red flag on the last play of the third quarter, when Dalton slid and was given a first down. After the replay review, Dalton was ruled short of the first down, forcing a punt.

How big was that ruling?

A. Huge isn’t strong enough. How about gigantic? Not strong enough?

Try immeasurable.

The Lions needed a lift from somewhere, and they got it from the challenge. And not because Schwartz threw the flag, but because it forced the Bengals to punt instead of getting a first down, and the Lions turned the possession into a touchdown  on Calvin Johnson’s 50-yard catch to make the score 27-27.

If the Bengals had kept the ball and driven to a field goal to boost the lead to 10 points, they might have put away the game.

Q. So, does all the credit go to Schwartz?

A. The credit – discredit, really – goes to Dalton for sliding too soon. He should have had a first down, but he slid too soon.

Q. Defenseless receiver: Calvin Johnson took a hard hit going for a deep ball early in the second quarter. Bengals defensive back Reggie Nelson hit Johnson hard, and Johnson’s helmet flew off. No penalty flag was thrown. Do you expect Nelson to be fined?

A. I don’t know what to expect, and that’s not meant to be a copout or a wise crack. From week-to-week, play-to-play, it’s hard to predict what the NFL will do when it comes to fining players for hits.

When Johnson’s helmet flew off, it looked like a clear violation of the rule on hitting a defenseless receiver. But watching replays, it looked like Nelson hit Johnson high in the chest but below the neck, and he made contact with his shoulder, not his helmet.

To me, that means no penalty and no fine.

But last week in Cleveland, I thought Ndamukong Suh made a clean hit on Browns QB Brandon Weeden. Suh was fined $31,500 for the hit.

Q. Conservative: After the Bengals’ scored their second TD for a 14-10 lead, the Lions got the ball at their 20 with 41 seconds left. They called two runs and ran out the clock. Why not open it up a little?

A. Good question, and that’s what I would have done. Schwartz once defended the same strategy in another game by saying they were “aggressive” runs. There was nothing aggressive about what the Lions did in that situation.

Joique Bell gained seven yards on first down. With the fans groaning, the Lions let the clock run down before snapping the ball with 14 seconds left in the half for another run by bell that gained two yards.

Q. Cornerback shuffle: Was cornerback Chris Houston benched in the second half? And if so, why? He’s supposed to be the Lions’ best cornerback.

A. The word that he was benched, and the move was not made because of any injury. Rookie Darius Slay took his spot, with Rashean Mathis in place at the other cornerback.

Houston had a tough first half. A. J. Green victimized him for an 82-yard TD catch in the first quarter, and Marvin Jones got behind him for a 12-yard TD catch with 41 seconds left in the half.

Benching a starter is an extreme move, but this was warranted based on Houston’s play in the first half.

Houston had to come back and play in the second when Mathis got hurt.

Q. The record: The loss dropped the Lions to 4-3. How much did losing hurt them?

It left a big wound on their record. The Bengals are a good team – better than the Lions in some areas – but it was a game the Lions should have won to get to 5-2. Now they have to beat the Cowboys next week at Ford Field to get to 5-3 and stay above .500 going into the bye.

That’s how fast things change in the NFL. A week ago, the Lions were riding high after beating the Browns with a strong second-half performance. Today, they’re down because of a loss.