O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: How surprising is the Lions' 24-21 loss to the Bucs?

Posted Nov 24, 2013

Mike O'Hara on the costly turnovers and missed opportunities in Detroit's 24-21 loss to Tampa Bay

Burning questions – turnovers, missed opportunities, a rough day for Matthew Stafford and playoff implications in the Lions’ 24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs at Ford Field Sunday:

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Q. How surprising is it that the Bucs beat the Lions?

A. A team that had a 2-8 record going into the game isn’t supposed to beat a team that has a 6-4 record and is playing at home with a chance to take a stronger grip on first place in the NFC North.

Having watched the debacle, the outcome is no surprise. The Bucs maximized the talent they had. The Lions minimized theirs. They did everything possible – and a few things that seemed impossible – to help the Bucs win the game.

Q. What was the Lions’ biggest failing? Was it interceptions, a blocked punt, fumble, getting burned on a long TD pass?

A. It was all of that and more, and it can be boiled down to two words: losing football.

It’s not like the Lions didn’t do anything well. They dominated most of the stats. But the giveaways were fatal.

Stafford had four interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown.

Chris Houston was beaten for an 85-yard touchdown catch.

Kris Durham lost a fumble in the fourth quarter when the Lions were trying to rally.

And there was a blocked punt that gave the Bucs a chance to widen their lead to 27-21 in the fourth quarter, but the kick was wide left.

Four of those plays were in the fourth quarter – the long TD pass, Durham’s fumble, the blocked punt and the fourth interception.

Q. What was the killer?

A. The fourth interception, with less than a minute to go, sealed the loss. On third down from the Bucs’ 30, Stafford looped a pass to Johnson at the five. Johnson had the ball, but it was knocked loose as he tried to secure it and was caught in the air by the Bucs for an interception.

It was a play that Johnson should have made and didn’t. It went in the books as an interception. Whatever it is officially – fumble or interception – it ended the game for the Lions.

It was the last bad play on a bad day.

Q. Rebound for Thursday: Can the Lions bounce back and beat the Packers on Thanksgiving Day?

A. They have to bounce back. They have no choice. They still can win the North, but the question that haunts them now is why they’ve played some of their worst ball the last two weeks at a time when they’ve had the best chance in a decade to win a division title and open the playoffs at home.

There are no excuses, and no way to explain it to anyone’s satisfaction.

Q. Low blow: A day of mistakes by the Lions started when the Bucs’ second possession was kept alive when Nick Fairley was flagged for a low blow on Bucs QB Mike Glennon on third down. Right call by the officials?

A. Hitting the quarterback low is a penalty. That’s the way they’ve been calling it for a long time, and there was nothing to argue about. Fairley came in from Glennon’s left and hit him below the knees just as he was releasing the ball.

It was third-and-15 from the Bucs’ 17, and Glennon’s pass was complete but short of a first down.

Coaches and players talk about the “strike zone” – below the neck area and above the knees – and players have to play within those rules. It wasn’t a cheap shot by Fairley, but it was a penalty under the rules.

Q. First half blues – clocked: It was a bad ending to the first half for the Lions. It started with questionable time management – and got worse.

Nick FairleyDT Nick Fairley (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

The Lions had all three first downs left when they stopped the Bucs on third down with 2:42 left in the half, forcing a punt. They had all three timeouts left but let the clock run down. When the Bucs punted, the Lions got the ball at their 35 with 1:54.

Shouldn’t they have called time, to give the offense more time with the ball?

A. It’s what I thought they should do when the clock was running down, and I still think calling time was the right strategy. After the punt, it would have given them time for two or three plays before the two-minute warning.

Q. The possession ended in disaster – a 48-yard interception return by Leonard Johnson for a touchdown and a 17-14 Bucs lead. Should that change anyone’s mind about calling timeouts?

A. No. Right and wrong is based on what happens at a point in time, not what comes later.

Q. Third quarter flag – Bucs safety Mark Barron drew an interference penalty midway through the quarter for grabbing Brandon Pettigrew when he was trying to catch a short pass. How bad was the penalty on Barron?

A. Unexplainably bad. There was no reason for it. It was third-and-12 from the 42. Even if Pettigrew had made the catch, it would have been six yards short of a first down. The Lions would have had to decide between punting, trying a long field goal or going for it on fourth down.

Barron gave the Lions a fresh set of downs when he didn’t have to.

Q. Lions give back: Three plays later, the Lions had first down at the Bucs’ 25. Stafford tried to hit Johnson in the end zone, but Keith Tandy got over to make the interception. Should Stafford have been more conservative at that point in the game?

A. Points are gold, however you get them, but patience is a virtue, too. Sometimes it pays to be patient – keep chopping, chopping, chopping and win a game without big plays.

That was a good time for the Lions to be more conservative and not go for the big play. They were well within field-goal range. There aren’t many times when it isn’t a good idea to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson, but that might have been on of them.

Q. Un-challenged: The Bucs threw the challenge flag after missing a field goal midway through the third quarter. It could have boosted the Bucs’ lead to 27-21. Referee Clete Blakerman did not allow the challenge. What was up with that?

A. Blakerman explained it with his announcement. The kick was wide right left, and it was not a reviewable play, Blakerman announced.