FIRST DOWN: TOE-TO-TOE
In the end, a loss is still a loss, but for a young football team like the Detroit Lions, Thursday's 28-25 loss to the Buffalo Bills continues to show the progress they are making. Lions head coach Dan Campbell doesn't think of Thursday's loss as a step back after winning three straight coming in.
"It should sting that we lost that game because we had our opportunities," Campbell said. "But that doesn't mean we've taken a step back either. I still felt growth today. I feel like we're continuing to take a step."
Buffalo is one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, and this young Lions team played them toe-to-toe with a last-second field goal being the difference. Buffalo came in as a 9.5-point favorite on the road. They didn't look like a team 9.5 points better than Detroit.
Detroit was right there for 59 minutes and 58 seconds against one of the best teams in the NFL. They simply couldn't get a stop at the end and made a few more errors than the Bills throughout the course of the game.
Over the last four weeks, the Lions have shown they can play with anyone in the league.
"We all know how good they are, but losing that close, no one wants to lose obviously, but that's a good football team," Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said.
"Us being able to see that we're that close to winning those types of games, I think gives everybody in this locker room hope. We know we're just so close, we've just got to eliminate the little mistakes, penalties here and there, play it clean and maybe they'll come our way the next time."
SECOND DOWN: HOUSTON'S DEBUT
Talk about a nice debut.
The Lions elevated rookie linebacker James Houston from the practice squad Wednesday ahead of Thursday's game to give them a boost on special teams and on defense with pass rushers Charles Harris and Josh Paschal inactive due to injury.
The sixth-round pick started the game with a key fumble recovery playing on the punt team. He saved what would have been a critical turnover in Lions' territory on a Kalif Raymond fumble.
Houston would later have a couple big sacks that ended Buffalo drives and helped keep the Lions in the game right to the end.
"I was expecting to kind of spare a little bit and go in on third downs and kind of help out a little bit," Houston said. "With JO (Julian Okwara) going out I went in a little bit more. It's just, opportunity meets preparation and that breeds success."
Expect Houston to get more opportunities moving forward after the debut he had, and especially if Okwara's elbow injury suffered Thursday is significant.
THIRD DOWN: 3RD & 1 PLAY
Trailing 25-22 with 32 seconds left in the game, quarterback Jared Goff and the Lions faced a 3rd & 1 at the Buffalo 33-yard line. Already in field goal position, Goff saw a one-on-one matchup he liked on the outside with wide receiver DJ Chark and took a shot.
That call will be scrutinized by Lions fans, wondering why not play it safer there and get the first down with a couple timeouts in their possession. Goff doesn't regret the call. He simply regrets the throw he delivered. He was short and wide of Chark, who had a step on the corner.
"I wish I would have thrown a different ball," Goff said after the game. "I thought the call was great. I had some options with what to do there. If you had to do it again, would you do something different? I don't know, maybe. But if I throw a better ball, it might not matter."
It's the one throw Goff will think about after this one, but overall Goff was pretty good. He completed 23-of-37 passes for 240 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 98.9 passer rating.
FOURTH DOWN: STRETCH RUN
Thursday's loss drops the Lions to 4-7 on the season and puts them behind the eight ball in the stretch run for the playoffs in the NFC.
But with three straight wins coming into Thursday and playing toe-to-toe with the Bills, this Lions team has a ton of confidence.
Of their six remaining games, the Lions have only two against teams with a winning record (New York Jets and Minnesota), and of those two, only the Jets game is on the road.
"We are a confident team," Goff said. "Dan kind of mentioned it (in the locker room). Every week's going to be a reload. How do we reload and come back out and play good ball? And no matter who we're playing, this league's too good. It's top to bottom so good, but we do feel like we can compete with anybody and can beat anybody. And yeah, certainly, we're behind the eight ball a little bit, but plenty of games left to make some noise."