O'Hara: There was a little bit of everything in the Lions' Thanksgiving Day loss to Houston

Posted Nov 22, 2012

Of all the narrow losses and “could-a, should-a” games of this wasted season, none was more exasperating than this one.

Just like the holiday dinner that was served in homes across America, there was a little of everything in the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game with the Houston Texans.

For the Lions, who ultimately proved to be gracious hosts to the visiting Houston Texans, there was too much to stomach.

A game that they seemed to have won numerous times finally slipped through their hands into the loss column on a 32-yard field goal by the Texans’ Shayne Graham with 12:49 elapsed in overtime that gave the Texans a 34-31 victory at Ford Field.

Of all the narrow losses and “could-a, should-a” games of this wasted season, none was more exasperating than this one.

In a space of five days – from a 24-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday to getting beat by the Texans on Thursday – the Lions played two of the NFL’s best teams head-up but weren’t able to make winning plays in the clutch.

All five units contributed to the loss to Houston. No, that is not a miscount. The traditional three units – offense, defense and special teams – get their failings.

But so does the officiating crew.

And so does Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.

Schwartz and the officials combined on the biggest play of the game, giving the Texans a gift touchdown on what should have been an eight-yard gain but ended up in an 81-yard touchdown run.

Texans running back Justin Forsett was awarded an 81-yard score with 6:35 left in the third quarter. It cut the Lions’ lead to 24-21 and swung the momentum in Houston’s favor.

There was one problem. Actually, make that three problems.

Problem No. 1: Forsett’s left knee and an elbow touched the turf when he was hit after going through the left side of the Lions’ defensive line.He was down, and it should have been third down-and-four.

Problem No. 2: The officials blew the call. They didn’t see what everybody in the stadium and millions of people watching on national television saw. But that should have been no problem. Under NFL rules put in place this year, all scoring plays are subject to review.

Problem No. 3: Schwartz threw the red challenge flag. Under a weird – no, make that insanely stupid – NFL rule, teams are not allowed to throw the flag on scoring plays that are subject to automatic review.

When the flag is thrown in such cases, the play no longer can be reviewed, and the team is assessed a 15-yard penalty on the subsequent kickoff.

The penalty on the kickoff didn’t mean much. There haven’t been many returns since the NFL moved the kickoff spot to the `15-yard line. But the quick score was a killer. It put the Texans back in the game at a point when the Lions had broken away from a 14-14 tie to take a 10-point lead.

“I know the rule,” Schwartz said after the game. “You can’t challenge a scoring play. I overreacted.

“I had the flag out of my pocket before he scored the touchdown. It’s all my fault.”

Schwartz made it known immediately on the sideline that it was his fault.

“We had a lot of time to play,” he said. “I just wanted them to not get distracted.”

Easier said than done.

“Either way, it’s a blown call, bad call,” said Calvin Johnson.

Could he feel the momentum shift?                                                                                    

“You could feel it out there,” said Johnson, whose pulse rate under stress beats at about the same steady level as most astronauts. “That could definitely take the wind out of your sails.”

Forsett’s touchdown was one play –  a very big play, to be sure – that led to the Lions’ third straight loss.

All three traditional units – offense, defense and special teams - had chances to lock up the game for the Lions.

Most decisive was Jason Hanson’s 47-yard field-goal attempt in overtime that hit the upright straight on. It would have won the game. Earlier, Graham had hooked a 51-yard attempt wide left.

The defense  could have put the clamps on late in the fourth quarter, when Houston was pinned on its three-yard line after a punt. The Texans escaped to go 97 yards on 15 plays to tie the game at 31-all on Arian Foster’s one-yard run.

On that possession, the defense gave up three critical first downs when it had a clear edge on third or fourth down.

Matt Schaub’s pass to Foster on third-and-five at the five gained 13 yards. On fourth-and-seven at the Lions’ 41, Schaub hit Andre Johnson for 16 yards. On third-and-10 at the 25, another pass to Johnson gained 13 yards.

The offense hit a wall after Joique  Bell’s 23-yard TD run gave the Lions a 31-24 lead with 13:31 left.

In the fourth quarter the offense had first downs at Houston’s 41, 36 and 45 on separate possessions and wound up punting.

In overtime, Brandon Pettigrew fumbled at Houston’s 29 after a reception. The next possession stalled out on three straight incomplete passes after reaching Houston’s 45 with a first down.

“Just like you said,” Matthew Stafford said. “We hit a wall.”

After Hanson’s miss, whatever wall the defense had put up crumbled. Houston needed only five plays to go 49 yards – from its 37 to the Lions’ 14 – to put Graham in place to win the game with a chip-shot field goal.

All the losses may count the same, but they don’t all feel the same. Losing to the Texans was the low point of the season.

“We had a chance to beat a really good team, but that’s not good enough,” said Kyle Vanden Bosch. “This is a really good team. We’re just not playing like it.”