O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: Who's to blame in Lions' 18-16 loss to Ravens?

Posted Dec 16, 2013

Mike O'Hara on offensive miscues, defensive play, and the position the Lions are in after losing to Baltimore on Monday night

Burning questions -- The Lions’ offense missing and not in act for most of the game, the defense holding up despite key penalties, and the desperation of the Lions’ position after their 18-16 loss to the Ravens at Ford Field Monday night.

Q. Blame game: It was a crushing loss for the Lions’ hopes to win the NFC North. Where does the blame go?

A. The Lions aren’t in their dire playoff position because of one play or one series, or even one game – as big as the loss to the Ravens was. The game turned out to be a microcosm of the season. Whatever good they did was negated by their mistakes.

Most of the blame goes on the offense for being ineffective for a long stretch, but there were other failings that let the Ravens win the game on a 61-yard field goal by Justin Tucker with 38 seconds left.

Q. Why not just the offense? The defense didn’t give up a touchdown, and the special teams didn’t have any big mistakes.

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

A. After the Lions took a 16-15 lead on a touchdown pass to Joseph Fauria, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson failed to connect on a two-point conversion that would have given the Lions a three-point and kept the Ravens from winning on a field goal.

Johnson had single coverage, but the pass led him too far to the out-of-bounds line. He caught the ball but couldn’t stay inbounds. That was two points the Lions could have had.

Q. Special teams: what did they do wrong?

A. Nothing dramatic, except David Akers, who kicked off all game and did well, didn’t drive the kickoff deep enough. The Ravens brought it out from three yards deep and got a 36-yard return to the 33. That gave them a good opportunity to get into field-goal range.

Q. Defense – what did it do wrong?

A. Not much, but just enough. On third-and-15 from the 28, Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones for 27 yards to the Lions’ 45. One throw, and the Ravens were in position.

Q. The winning kick: Was there anything the Lions’ special-teams did wrong on Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to win the game?

A. Not a thing. The snap was low, but holder Sam Koch got it down. Turner never altered his kicking motion. The ball just skinned inside the right upright.

The game ended when Stafford had his third interception on first down after the kickoff.

Q. Playoff picture: what does that do to the Lions’ chances to win the NFC North?

A. It crushes them. They’ve fallen to third place in the NFC North with a 7-7 record behind the Bears (8-6) and Packers (7-6-1).

They have a mathematical chance to win the North if they beat the Giants and Vikings in the last two games to get to 9-7, but they have to count on the Vikings and Packers both losing at least one game. The Lions are 1-4 in the last five games, and they haven’t played like a first-place team in that stretch.

It was a sad, miserable ending to a game that held so much promise – and one point the Lions looked like they had won when Fauria caught the TD pass. With one kick from the Ravens, Ford Field went from sounding like a rock concert to a funeral march.

Q. The culprit: where does the bulk of the blame go for the loss?

A. Put it on the offense, and that should be a surprise, but unfortunately for the Lions, as you look back, it really shouldn’t have been.

The Lions have one of the most productive passing games in the NFL, but the offense has scored only three touchdowns in the last two games, and Stafford has one TD pass – the one to Fauria against the Ravens.

In that same span, he’s had four turnovers – a lost fumble last week in Philadelphia, and the three picks against the Ravens.

The franchise quarterback did not step up when the Lions needed him most. He took a step back. He wasn’t the only one, but the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. As the quarterback goes, so goes the team.

Q. Ravens vs. Lions – what was the difference in the two teams?

A. From the stats and the two-point margin, there wasn’t much to choose from. But the difference was that the Ravens played like a team that expects to win and knows how to win. The Lions played like a team that wants to win but hasn’t found the formula.

Q. Mega-drops: How much did Calvin Johnson’s two dropped passes in the first half hurt the Lions, and was he trying too hard because of the comments made by Ravens’ rookie Matt Elam about being “old”?

A. Forget about the comments. There’s no way a player of Johnson’s stature should get caught up in what a rookie said about him. That didn’t make any difference.

I don’t know about age, but watching him drop two balls got old. The first one was huge. The Lions had third-and-15 at the Ravens’ 17, and Stafford hit Johnson in stride, cutting from right to left. It would have easily been a first down and could have gone for a touchdown.

Ravens safety James Ihedigbo was closing on Johnson. If Johnson made him miss – and there’s no guarantee that he would have – it would have been clear sailing to the end zone.

The second drop came late in the second quarter. It would have kept the drive going. Instead, the Lions wound up punting. The Ravens got the ball back and kicked a go-ahead field goal for a 9-7 lead at halftime.

Q. Yellow flags:: The secondary got three big penalties late in the first half. They led to two field goals. The Lions didn’t like the calls. Were the calls legitimate?

A. Two of them came on back-to-back plays and set up Baltimore’s second field goal. Jonte Green got a face-mask penalty that added 15 yards to a 22-yard reception by Torrey Smith.

An interference penalty against Louis Delmas on the next play gave the Ravens 24 yards to the 10. The official might have seen Delmas extend his arm and while covering Marlon Brown and threw ew the flag for interference. It looked like Delmas and Brown got their legs tangled, which would have made it no call.

Q. What about the penalty on Delmas for a hit to the head just before the end of the half? Good call?

A. That was a tough call, but it looked like the right call after watching the replay. And it was a big call, too. Flacco threw an incomplete pass on third and eight form the 44. The Ravens probably would have had to punt. Instead, they got first and goal at the 10.

Referee Carl Cheffers announced that call was for a hit to the head and neck area of a defenseless player.

Q. Red flag – Ravens’ challenge: Coach John Harbaugh threw the challenge flag after the officials gave Brandon Pettigrew a catch that gained 18 yards and gave the Lions first down at the Ravens’ 15 with 3:24 left.

After reviewing the play, referee Carl Cheffers ruled that the call on the field stood. Right challenge by Harbaugh?

A. No, because it didn’t work. But with a 15-10 lead, and his players waving to the sideline that they thought Pettigrew had dropped the ball, it was understandable that he’d throw the flag. Harbaugh doesn’t make many mistakes. He can be forgiven for that one.

Q. Moving on: Can the Lions recover in time to face the Giants in their next game Sunday?

A. They have no choice. They have to recover and regroup. The trouble is, it might not make any difference.