FIRST DOWN: TURNOVERS
A Matthew Stafford pick-six on Detroit's second procession of the game was the first of what would be three Detroit turnovers in eight plays for the Lions in a 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving.
The other two were fumbles by running backs Jonathan Williams and Kerryon Johnson. Houston turned it right back over on the very next play after the Johnson fumble, and Detroit turned that into a 1-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown. However Houston scored 13 points off those three Detroit turnovers and won the turnover battle overall 3-1.
The Texans came into Thursday ranked 32nd in the NFL in takeaways with just five all year.
"We obviously know that turnovers are a big part of this game and can't happen," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. "We know we have to do better than that. The ball is the most important thing."
The turnovers on the Lions' second and third possessions stymied any momentum they built from taking a 7-0 lead after scoring on their first possession of the game after forcing a Houston punt.
SECOND DOWN: THE PICK-SIX
Stafford threw his eighth interception of the season when talented Texans defensive end J.J. Watt jumped up and snagged a pass intended for Lions fullback Jason Cabinda in the flat. Watt returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought we out-flanked them in the flat and he just made a great play," Stafford said after the game of Watt. "Obviously, still can't do that. He's a great player and has done that quite a few times. It's what he's great at, so you have to avoid it."
It was the third pick-six Stafford has thrown this season, all in Lions territory. He had one Week 2 in Green Bay in the third quarter when cornerback Chandon Sullivan snagged it at the 7-yard line and returned it for a score. Colts cornerback Kenny Moore picked Stafford off Week 8 at the Lions' 29-yard line and returned it for a score.
Interceptions are never good, but the ones that lead to immediate points for the opponent are the worst kind.
View photos from Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans Week 12 game at Ford Field on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 in Detroit
THIRD DOWN: HOCKENSON'S IMPACT
The Lions haven't had the services of wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola or running back D’Andre Swift the last couple weeks, which had Stafford looking for another target to step up. That's been second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Last week in Carolina, Hockenson caught four passes for 68 yards. On Thursday, Hockenson racked up 78 receiving yards in the first quarter – the most in a quarter by a tight end this year. The Texans adjusted a bit and there weren't as many opportunities for Hockenson the rest of the way, but he still finished with a respectable five catches for 89 yards to lead the Lions in receiving for a second straight week.
"I was feeling good," Hockenson said of his start to the game. "I felt like I was on a roll."
Hockenson has now passed the 500-yard receiving mark on the year (530), which is the second most by a Lions tight end through the first 11 games of a season in franchise history (Brandon Pettigrew).
Hockenson has been a consistent bright spot for the Lions' offense this whole year.
FOURTH DOWN: BIG-PICTURE QUESTIONS
Patricia talked with the media after Thursday's 41-25 loss to Houston knowing the questions about his job status and the big-picture future of this football team were coming after Detroit fell to 4-7 on the year.
"My focus every day is on the guys in that locker room and working as hard as I can to help those guys be successful," Patricia said. "It's really not outside of that. I don't think outside of that. I don't worry outside of that other than just trying to do the best job I can every day ... and try to get our team going. Pretty short term and pretty focused on the task at hand."
The mandate from ownership late last year was to play meaningful games in December, and that task just got more difficult with Thursday's loss.