O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What was the turning point in Lions' 34-20 loss?

Posted Dec 8, 2013

Mike O'Hara addresses key areas that impacted the Lions' 34-20 loss at Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA – Burning questions --- how a wintry blast affected the game, strategy on both teams and a little play that turned out to be a turning point in the Lions’ 34-20 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday:

Q. Collapse -- The Lions were sailing along – or skiing along -- with a 14-0 lead when the Eagles took over. What made the difference?

A. One thing has to be made clear from the beginning: it wasn’t the weather, or the footing, or bad breaks. Philadelphia made big plays and little plays while the Lions were making no plays and bad plays.

Fumbles, fumbled snaps from center and a mind-numbing string of penalties combined to make the Lions unravel in a game they had sewn up.

Q. Eagles’ comeback: What started Philly’s rally from the 14-0 deficit?

A. One play might have seemed small at the time, but it was the first flake to fall on what became an avalanche that buried the Lions.

Q. Big little play: What was the play, and why was it so important?

A. The Eagles had third-and-11 at their 25, and the Lions were in complete control with a 14-0 lead. They defense had bent a few times, but it hadn’t broken. A stop would have forced the Eagles to punt into the wind, and the Lions would have had the ball in decent field position with the wind at their back and all the momentum on their side.

None of that happened. Nick Foles completed a wobbly floater to DeSean Jackson in front of Chris Houston for the first down. That sparked the Eagles. Two plays later they had their first touchdown – a 19-yard pass to DeSean Jackson.

Q. What else contributed to the Eagles’ comeback?

A. The Lions helped out, that’s for sure. Nick Fairley got a penalty for roughing the passer. Ndamukong Suh was flagged for holding on a play when the Lions stopped the Eagles’ attempt for a two-point conversion. Given a second chance, the Eagles converted.

On the other side of the ball, Riley Reiff had a false-start when the Lions were going for a two-point conversion. Backed up five yards, David Akers tried to kick an extra point. His try was blocked.

Not to make a pun on the weather, but the Lions were caught in a blizzard and couldn’t find their way out.

The Eagles outscored them, 23-6, in the fourth quarter. It looked like the Eagles were playing on artificial turf and the Lions were on ice wearing snowshoes.

Q. Run defense: what happened to the Lions’ ability to stop the run?

A. That might be the biggest question of all. The defense had been so good against the run for the previous six games, but it was nonexistent after halftime.

In the first 97 seconds of the fourth quarter, LeSean McCoy had touchdown runs of 49 and 57 yards. McCoy wound up with 217 yards rushing. So much for the run defense carrying the Lions.

Q. The weather: how much of a factor was the snow?

A. It wasn’t just the snow that made the conditions so difficult. Wind was a factor, too.

In terms of conditions that were within the limits of allowing the game to be played, it changed the way both teams play, and decisions made by the coaches.

Except for lightning, which forces teams to suspend play until the area is clear, and high wind, nothing could have had more of an impact.

It was a factor even before the game started.

Q. Bush-whacked: He was hurt in pre-game warm-ups. Did the snowy turf have anything to do with the injury?

A. There was no other reasonable explanation for why he got hurt. He missed two days of practicing during the week with a calf injury but was listed as questionable and went out for the pre-game warm-ups. The injury apparently was aggravated when he slipped.

Bush reacted immediately, slamming his hand to the turf. He must have known something happened that could have kept him from playing.

Q. Personnel decision: Could the Lions have been better prepared to cover themselves in case Bush got hurt at any point and was unavailable?

A. The only choice was to activate Mikel Leshoure. He has barely played this year. The regular game-day rotation has been Bush, Joique Bell and rookie Theo Riddick.

Even though Bell had two fumbles, he’s good enough and savvy enough to carry the load. And he produced. However, with Bush down, Riddick was the only relief back. In conditions where the footing is uncertain, any player can pull a muscle at any time.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

All of that might have been a reason to have Leshoure up as an emergency back, but it was a debatable call either way.

Q. Strategy: What impact did weather make on strategy?

A. There is no doubt that both teams did things that they wouldn’t have done on a dry track.

Three examples:

1. Late in the second quarter, the Lions had fourth and two at Philly’s 12-yard line with no score. Instead of kicking a field goal, the Lions went for it. A flare pass to Bell gained 10 yards to the two. On first and goal, Bell ran it in for the touchdown.

2. Next play, instead of kicking the extra point to make it 7-0, the Lions went for two. The Lions got the pass to Bell for two points to make the lead 8-0.

After a third-quarter TD, the Eagles also went for two but failed when a pass by Nick Foles was incomplete. That left the score at 14-6.

3. Late in the first half and trailing 8-0, the Eagles had fourth and seven at the Lions’ 10-yard line. A 28-yard field goal is a chip shot and would have cut the lead to 8-3. Instead, the Eagles went for the first down. A pass into the end zone was broken up by Rashean Mathis.

The Lions ran out the clock to keep their lead at 8-0 heading into the second half.

Q. Ref reversal: Ed Hochuli announced an offside on the Lions, then changed it to a false start on the Eagles. What happened?

A. He had the right jersey number – 69 – but the wrong team. Guard Evan Mathis had the false start. Hochuli got it right, beginning the announcement to the crowd with “My mistake.”

He wasn’t the only one who made mistakes Sunday. Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn’t correct theirs.