O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What did losing at Minnesota mean?

Posted Dec 29, 2013

Mike O'Hara looks at what this loss meant to the Lions, what players made an impression and more in season finale at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS – Burning questions – what losing meant, strange penalty calls and timeouts and some players who might have made an impression as the Lions closed out the season with a 14-13 loss to the Vikings at Mall of American Field Sunday:

Q. With all the speculation about the future of head coach Jim Schwartz, what did losing the game mean?

A. Winning is always better than losing, and I’ll never think otherwise, even though that is a small-picture view of the game. The Lions should have been playing to wrap up first place in the NFC North, but that wasn’t the case.

The outcome might have been different if the Lions had more to play for. That’s something that will never be known, and that’s the saddest part of how the season ended.

The big picture – whether it saved Schwartz’s job – isn’t clear. It was his 80th regular-season game as head coach of the Lions, and there is no way it could have had more impact on a decision about his future than the other 79.

It was one more loss on his record, and the sixth in the last seven games to make their record 7-9.

Q. Last impressions: What were the highlights for the Lions?

A. After the first half, the offense and defense dominated the third quarter. The Lions had an 8-1 advantage in first downs in the quarter. Matthew Stafford completed nine of 11 passes in the quarter, and Kevin Ogletree had three catches for 54 yards.

Also in the quarter, the defense gave up 19 yards and only one first down.

Q. What were the lowlights?

A. A slow start by the defense was surprising. The Vikings ran for 107 yards in the first half – with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart both inactive. The offense had only three first downs in the first half. The Lions were lucky to get out of the half trailing only 7-0.

And the offensive line had problems protecting the quarterback all game.

Q. Special teams: How did they play?

A. Especially bad in many cases. Sam Martin had a great punting game, but there were too many mistakes.

A punt that should have been downed near the one-yard line resulted in a touchback because of a penalty for illegal touching. A timeout was called before kicking an extra point. Clipping on a punt return cost them 15 yards in the fourth quarter.

Most glaring was a 50-yard punt return in the fourth quarter gave the Vikings first and goal. From there, they scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Q. Lineman’s dream: The Vikings tried a trick play early in the second quarter, and it could have been a touchdown catch for defensive lineman Jared Allen.

He reported as an eligible receiver on first and goal at the two, lined up off the left end and was wide open in the end zone. Matt Cassel overthrew him.

Good play call by the Vikings?

A. Not a good play call. A great play call. It was something that the Vikings no doubt worked on in practice during the week, and it broke some of the tedium of getting ready to play a game that had no meaning.

Even though the pass was incomplete, Allen raised his arms to the fans as he jogged off the field, and Cassel had a smile on his face after the play.

Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier had a grasp of what the final week meant. He talked to his team on Tuesday about reports that his job was in jeopardy, and he gave the players Christmas off.

Early in the second quarter, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen reported as an eligible receiver on first and goal at the Lions’ two-yard line. He lined up outside the left end and was open in the end zone.

It might have been Allen’s last game as a Viking, too. He does not have a contract for next year, and he could be moving on.  If he departs, he went out in style. In the first h half alone, Allen was in on a sack, deflected a pass attempt, and he ran a pass pattern than could have been a TD catch.

A little fun in the gloom of a final game doesn’t hurt anything.

Louis DelmasS Louis Delmas (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Q. Delmas flagged: Safety Louis Delmas got a 15-yard penalty in the second quarter for unnecessary roughness. Referee Tony Corrente announced the penalty as a hit to the neck and head area on a defenseless receiver. Right call?

A. Right call, no question. Delmas launched himself and hit Simpson high just after the ball arrived. Officials call that play every time – when they see it. And that’s one call that they never seem to miss.

He made an end-zone interception later and got in on a sack, but the penalty was a good call.

Q. Strange call: Sam Martin boomed a long punt near the end of the first half that was touched down inside the five by Micheal Spurlock. However, Spurlock got a penalty for illegal touching. He came in from out of bounds to touch the ball inside the 20.

Under the rules, that makes the punt a touchback, and the Vikings got the ball at their 20.

What about that call?

A. It’s a good call, and a dumb rule. The refs have to call the rules, and they called it.

Q. Bad time: The Lions called time when they were lining up to kick the extra point after scoring a TD to make it 7-7 on the first play of the second half. Would it have been better to let the play clock run out and kick the extra point from five yards further back than use up a timeout that early?

A. Absolutely better. A player on the kicking team called time. It didn’t come from the sideline. But the player should know that they don’t have the authority to call time in situations like that.

Q. Another bad time: Late in the third quarter, the Lions called time on second and goal inside the Vikings’ 10. Why call time there?

A. Matthew Stafford was calling signals and noticed that only 10 players were on the field. Kevin Ogletree had caught a pass on the previous play and went to the sideline. No receiver replaced him. Somebody should have noticed – another receiver or perhaps one of the 17 coaches on the staff.