O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What does it mean now that the Lions are out of the playoffs?

Posted Dec 22, 2013

Mike O'Hara looks at key plays and factors in Lions' 20-23 overtime loss at home to the Giants

Burning questions – How the Lions’ playoff hopes died, key plays and watching the scoreboard in their 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants at Ford Field Sunday:

Q. What made the differences?

A. Same story, just like all year – turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. And throw in some bad penalties.

Turnovers are a prescription for doom in the NFL, and the Lions had theirs renewed week by terrible week.

Q. What was the biggest one?

A. A 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by the Giants’ Will Hill with 4:57 left was the killer. It tied the score at 20-20, and it came at a time when the Lions were dominating up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Q. What happened on the play?

A. Matthew Stafford was trying to hit tight end Joseph Fauria, and the pass led him a little too much. The ball deflected off Fauria’s left hand to Hill, who was playing deeper and near the numbers on the left sideline.

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Once Hill made the catch, he had a clear path to the end zone.

It was the Lions’ third turnover of the game, and they had a familiar ring. Stafford had two interceptions, and Reggie Bush lost another fumble.

Q. Playoffs: What does it mean that the Lions are out of the playoffs?

A. It means that they have completed the biggest late-season collapse in memory. Six weeks ago they were 6-3 and in command of the NFC North. Since then they’ve lost five of six games, including three in a row, and they’ve been out of control with turnovers, penalties and defensive breakdowns.

Q. Defense: It had some big moments, but what was the big play that made the difference?

A. In overtime, the Giants had fourth-and-seven at the Lions’ 42 and went for it. A stop would have put the Lions in good position to win. Instead, they gave up a 17-yard completion to Jerrel Jernigan to the Lions’ 25. From there, the Giants set up Josh Brown for the game-winning field goal.

It was reminiscent of the Lions’ loss to the Ravens in the last game. They gave up a third-and-15 on the last drive with a long completion to set up a 61-yard field goal that won the game.

Q. Playing for overtime: The Lions got the ball back at their 25 with 23 seconds left. They had two timeouts and called a running play on first down. After that, they let the clock run out.

Right decision?

A. Debatable. On second down, they could have taken a safe, deep shot – and thrown the ball only if the receiver was open. If not, Stafford could have eaten the ball and let the clock run out.

Most teams would probably do the same thing. I’d like to take a chance, but there’s no issue with how the Lions played that last possession.

Q. Fumble review: On the second play of overtime, Giants running back Andre Brown fumbled, and the Lions recovered at their 28. A replay review gave the ball to the Lions. Did the refs get it right on the replay?

A. Close call, obviously, because referee Jerome Boger looked at it a long time before deciding. I thought Brown might have been down before the ball came out, but it was so close that it was hard to overrule the call on the field.

Q. Second safety: Both members of the Lions’ defensive tackle duo have safeties. Ndamukong Suh got his on Thanksgiving Day. Nick Fairley got one against the Giants when he sacked Eli Manning in the end zone.

How big was Fairley’s safety, and he did he get it?

A. It was a big play by Fairley because it cut the  Giants’ lead to 13-12 and gave the ball back to the offense on the free kick.

Fairley is one of the best athletic big men in football. Whatever he weighs – and it’s probably quite a bit north of 300 pounds – he has amazing ability and closing speed. On the safety, he lined up inside at tackle, looped to his right and cut inside the Giants’ left tackle to take a collision course straight at Eli Manning.

Manning had no chance to avoid Fairley. He got him a foot or so inside the end zone. The safety was confirmed on the automatic replay review.

Q. Critics critiques: It’s been open season on the Lions in the talk shows and pre-game shows, with speculation about  Jim Schwartz and his job status, and Stafford’s mechanics and some decisions he’s made.

Was there anything on the air Sunday that might have resonated with Lions management?

A. No team is going to make changes based on what gets said on radio or TV. If teams did that, they’d have a new starting lineup and coaching staff almost every week.

What resonated most was the comments made on the NFL Network by Kurt Warner. He played on a Super Bowl champion with the Rams, and also on the losing team with the Rams and Cardinals.

There’s been a lot of talk about Stafford’s mechanics, and Warner talked about “discipline.” That doesn’t mean Stafford isn’t a worker or a prima donna or anything close to that.

What Warner was talking about was having so much faith in his arm that he can fit the ball into any spot. Sometimes talent can come with a curse.

Stafford is going to be the quarterback and a franchise leader for a long time. When someone of Warner’s stature makes a comment, I’d think long and hard about it. It’s not something to be dismissed as coming from some hot-head looking to build ratings.

Q. Megatron, mini-game: Calvin Johnson was rotated in and out, and he was out more than he was in. Why was that?

Calvin JohnsonWR Calvin Johnson (Photo: Gavin Smith)

A. Johnson’s been battling a knee injury all year, and it must have been worse than ever. On one possession, there was a two-minute timeout, and he was out on the first two plays after play resumed. That was one sign that he was hurting.

Another sign came on the Lions’ first possession of the second half. He went in on first down – a pass to the other side of the field – and was out for the next few plays.

Q. Looking ahead: What does that mean for Johnson’s availability for next week’s road game against the Vikings?

A. There’s no way to know, but he probably started getting treatment Sunday night. The Lions need him, no doubt.

Q. Scoreboard watching: The Lions needed the Packers to lose, What was the reaction in the stadium when the scores were flashed that the Steelers had gotten the lead?

A. Loud ovations, which is what you’d expect. But the cheers weren’t all out. The Lions had to take care of their end of the deal. The loudest ovations were for the go-ahead touchdown run by Theo Riddick, and a pass to Fauria for a two-point conversion to give the Lions a 20-13 lead.

Unfortunately for the Lions, they gave it back.