FOUR DOWNS: Lions let playoffs slip away

FIRST DOWN: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Everything was trending Detroit’s way Sunday when it came to getting the necessary help needed around the NFL to better the Lions’ chances of making the playoffs in the NFC.

New Orleans beat Atlanta (23-13), which is exactly what Detroit needed to happen to further their playoff hopes.

Unfortunately, the thing Detroit could handle all by itself – winning in Cincinnati and setting up a huge Week 17 matchup vs. the Packers – they let slip through their grasp. 

The Lions were upset on the road by the Bengals, 26-17. The loss eliminates the Lions from postseason contention.

“We were struggling today,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s the fact of the matter. They did a better job controlling the line of scrimmage on us. They ran the ball well. They had a couple sparks here and there, but we just were not sharp. We had a few plays here and there, but they played better.”

That has to be the most disappointing part for Lions fans, considering what was on the line Sunday.

After making the playoffs last season, and in two of the last three years, Sunday’s loss seems like a step back for a franchise that had much loftier goals for itself after the start they got off to this season.

“It’s not fun when you get eliminated,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

“It’s not fun. We put a lot of work into it, my teammates and coaches, everybody man. We put a lot of work into it, so when it doesn’t happen for you it’s disappointing.”

At 8-7, the Lions will look to salvage at least a winning season next week vs. Green Bay in the regular-season finale

SECOND DOWN: SLOPPY PLAY

There probably isn’t a better word to describe Detroit’s play in Cincinnati than sloppy.

Dropped passes. Missed tackles. Too many costly penalties.

It all added up in Sunday’s loss. Even Matt Prater missed a make-able 50-yard field goal. He’s usually money from that distance. 

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The reality is that all three phases simply didn’t make enough of the plays needed to win a road game in the NFL late in the season.

“We didn’t play well enough, you know?” Stafford said. “Just weren’t moving the chains enough, weren’t making enough big plays. You don’t do those things on the road, it’s tough to win.”

Both Kenny Golladay and Golden Tate had opportunities to make big plays late, but let balls slip through their grasp.

Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard broke tackle after tackle on his way to a 116-yard, one touchdown performance. Bengals receivers found way too much open space to operate in.

Detroit was penalized nine times for 74 yards in the contest. Five of those Lions penalties came in the fourth quarter in crucial situations.

“We were having guys offsides, guys jumping on offsides offensively, just not sharp,” Caldwell said. “When you’re not playing well, you got to own it. I’m responsible for that, so just not our better day.”

THIRD DOWN: THIRD AND SHORT

The Lions have been one of the worst teams in the NFL this season converting on third and short situations.

Detroit ranked 29th in the NFL converting a little over 51 percent of the time on 3rd and 4 or shorter coming into Sunday.

Detroit began Sunday’s game 0-for-2, missing on a 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 2 in the first half, but Detroit found a right mix of power running with Tion Green, a nice pitch-play to Ameer Abdullah, and some timely passes by Stafford to finish the game 5-of-9 in 3rd and short situations.

This is an area the Lions will have to address heading into next season, however. The league average of converting in these situation is over 60 percent.

While the Lions were respectable Sunday, they haven’t been good enough overall this season in those crucial situations.

FOURTH DOWN: O-LINE SHORTAGE

Starting with the center position and ending at right tackle, the Lions were without three-fifths of their starting offensive line vs. the Bengals.

Center Travis Swanson (concussion), guard T.J. Lang (foot) and tackle Rick Wagner (ankle) were all inactive due to injury.

That’s certainly less than an ideal scenario against a Bengals team that despite their 5-9 record, are strong upfront along their defensive line. 

“I don’t care who we have in there,” Caldwell said. “Doesn’t really matter, you’ve never heard me make an excuse in any situation and I’m not going to start today.

“We just got to play better, we got to get better. That’s why we have 53 men on the roster, that’s why you have 10 practice squad guys. Those guys have to be able to step up and play for you. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to.”

The Lions struggled to get their footing in the ground game until late. When Cincinnati took a two-score lead and knew Detroit was in passing mode, they pinned their ears back and sacked Stafford twice to end the game.

It was obviously a struggle upfront for Detroit Sunday, but it wasn’t the offensive line Stafford lamented after the game, it was the lack of plays made on the outside.

“Those guys battled man, they played good,” Stafford said of his o-line. “We got to make plays on the outside, that’s how you score points in this league.”

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