FIRST DOWN: NO EXCUSES
There were certainly a number of obstacles thrown at head coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions this week from injuries to key players to simultaneous outbreaks of the flu and COVID-19 that ravaged the locker room.
Still, Campbell stood behind the podium Sunday afternoon after falling to the Denver Broncos, 38-10, and refused to use those as an excuse for his team's performance.
"What we had to do was not ideal," Campbell said. "But we were prepared to come in this game with the guys we had and we had a game plan ready to go, we knew what we needed to do and we didn't do it. We just made too many mistakes. We're right there to make a play and we don't make the play. We just weren't good enough."
The Lions were in the game at halftime down just 17-10, but fumbled on their opening possession and that led to a Broncos touchdown. They didn't convert a fourth and short that led to another Denver touchdown, extending the Broncos' lead to 31-10. Two more turnovers in the fourth quarter sealed the game for Denver.
"It doesn't matter," quarterback Jared Goff said of missing his two best pass catchers, top two running backs and playing with a third-string center Sunday. "No one feels bad for us. No one feels sorry for us, including ourselves.
"We went out here intending to win and came up short. Don't care who was on the field. We had the guys we believe in to win and made too many mistakes."
SECOND DOWN: RUN DEFENSE
The Lions had done a pretty good job defensively the last couple weeks holding Chicago and Minnesota, two pretty good rushing offenses, to just 168 total yards on the ground combined.
Stopping the run was an emphasis coming into Sunday's game against Denver, who feature a terrific running back duo of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III.
But good intentions don't always lead to good results, and the Broncos had their way with the Lions' defense all game on the ground. Denver ran the ball 39 times, all with Williams and Gordon, and racked up 184 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
"We just made too many mistakes, you know?" Campbell said after the game of the leaky run defense. "Guys aren't in the proper gaps, we're not lined up right. It wasn't clean."
Rookie nose tackle Alim McNeill blamed a lack of focus and players trying to do too much and not being disciplined by getting out of their gaps. He said it was frustrating all game for him and the guys upfront because he didn't think they played well enough to allow the linebacker to flow free and make plays in the run game. McNeill put a lot of the blame on the defensive line, and it's hard to argue with him.
THIRD DOWN: REYNOLDS STEPS UP
Running back Craig Reynolds had a very good training camp and preseason for the Lions. It wasn't quite good enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster coming out of camp because of Detroit's terrific depth at running back, but it was enough for Reynolds to earn a spot on the practice squad, where he's been waiting for his opportunity all year.
That opportunity came Sunday in Denver with starting running back D’Andre Swift out with a shoulder injury, backup Jamaal Williams being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Friday and rookie Jermar Jefferson dealing with the flu this week.
When the team elevated Reynolds from the practice squad Saturday, he knew he had a chance to play. He took advantage of the opportunity. His 35-yard run in the second quarter set up Detroit's only touchdown of the game, and he finished rushing for a team-lead and career-high 83 yards on just 11 carries for a 7.50-yard average.
"We have always kind of liked Craig since the preseason he had some good days, some good games," Goff said after the game. "We've always felt that in the back of our minds if he ever gets his shot we believe in him and he did today. He did some good things. We'll see where that goes."
Reynold certainly didn't play Sunday like a fifth-string running back. It just goes to show how deep the Lions really seem to be at running back.
FOURTH DOWN: MOMENTUM CHANGER
Detroit still felt pretty good about their chances to get back in the game down just a touchdown and getting the ball to start the second half.
The Lions started the first series of the second half with a 5-yard run by Reynolds and were building some momentum, but the very next play running back Godwin Igwebuike fumbled and the ball was recovered by Denver at the Detroit 36-yard line. Denver scored just five plays later to take a 24-10 lead.
That kind of influenced the decision on the next Lions possession to go for it on a 4th and 2 at their 33-yard line down a couple scores. Campbell felt like he had to be aggressive there. They didn't get it, and Denver scored again to make it 31-10.
It just goes to show how sometimes one mistake can really snowball. That fumble was a huge momentum shift in the game.