ATLANTA – Already down their No. 1 tight end in T.J. Hockenson, who was recently placed on season-ending injured reserve with a hand injury, the Lions' depth was seriously challenged at the position even more against the Falcons with a couple more key injuries.
Jason Cabinda is versatile for the Lions' offense playing both fullback and tight end. He went down with a knee injury in the first quarter after making a catch along the sideline, and head coach Dan Campbell said Cabinda's absence was a big loss in Detroit's 20-16 defeat.
"I'll be totally honest with you," Campbell said. "Losing Cabinda hurt us today."
There were some run-action things and stuff in the pass game the Lions had planned to use Cabinda's versatile skillset for, and that was scrapped after he left the game.
"He's kind of one of those unsung heroes because he does so many things for us," Campbell said of Cabinda. "His versatility sometimes goes unnoticed. Man, it hurt a little bit."
It only got worse when Detroit lost backup tight end Shane Zylstra to a non-contact knee injury a short time later, leaving just Brock Wright as the only healthy tight end on the roster. It forced the Lions to play more out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end), but they're really at their best offensively when they are mixing in a lot of different personnel groupings.
The Lions will have to make a couple moves this week or look to promotions within their practice squad for next week's game in Seattle to bolster their tight end numbers.
RED ZONE WOES
Turnovers, third down and red zone play are the three most important statistics in determining wins and losses in the NFL.
Turnovers were equal Sunday at one apiece, Detroit held a slight edge on third down, but Atlanta dominated the red zone, and that proved to be the biggest difference in the game.
The Lions reached the red zone four times and couldn't cash in a touchdown in any of the four trips. They settled for three field goals and turned it over on their final possession with an interception at the Atlanta 1-yard line in the closing seconds of the game.
Atlanta scored touchdowns on both of their red-zone trips. Four trips and only nine points is a lot of points left on the field for Detroit.
"Red zone hurt us," Campbell said. "Offensively we move the ball. Defensively, you want to stop in the red zone. Offensively instead of field goals, you need touchdowns."
View photos from Detroit Lions vs. Atlanta Falcons Week 16 game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 26 in Atlanta, GA.
GROWING AS A PLAY CALLER
A lot has been thrown Campbell's way to challenge him as a first-time play caller over the last month. Dynamic dual-threat running back D’Andre Swift has been out a month now, Hockenson hasn't played in a few weeks, and Detroit started a backup quarterback in just his second career start Sunday.
Still, the offense continues to be creative, though Campbell certainly wishes they would have been better in the red zone Sunday. It's a credit to Campbell continuing to develop as a play caller.
"Definitely, I feel like every week I've gotten a lot more comfortable," he said after the game. "And there's a number of challenges that you go through as a head coach and a play caller together that you get over. Even that little wrinkle today where you lose a couple of guys, you're out of these personnel groups, to have to adjust and adapt and do it on the run.
"Man, you memory bank all this you learn and grow from it. I do, I feel like I'm getting get a lot more comfortable."
REEVES-MAYBIN A PLAYMAKER
Veteran linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin continues to make the most of his opportunity to play more on defense.
Before this season, Reeves-Maybin had never played more than 284 snaps on defense. This year, he's knocking on 500 snaps, and he's made the most of them.
He had a team-high eight tackles Sunday and forced a critical fumble late that gave the Lions a chance to win the game. He also defended a pass. He's now got 67 tackles on the year and has made a number of game-changing plays. It will certainly be hard for the Lions to take him off the field defensively moving forward.
- Kicker Riley Patterson made three more field goals in Atlanta. He's now a perfect 10-for-10 on the year, which are the most consecutive field goals made to start a tenure in team history.
- It's not often you see a team dominate the time of possession the way the Lions did (38:05 to 21:55) and lose the game. It speaks to the importance of those red-zone points. Detroit also out-gained the Falcons 338 yards to 254.