CINCINNATI – Burning questions:Misplays, bad plays, penalties and missed opportunities that added up in the Detroit Lions’ 26-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals to the end their playoff hopes at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday:
Question: How stunning was the loss, and what does it mean for the Lions in the future?
Answer: It ranks as one of the biggest disappointments by the Lions in this decade – at least – and it heightens all the speculation about security and future decisions that has been boiling below the surface most of the season.
But on its own – for this one game on this one day – it was a bad performance all the way around, and no one is exempt from criticism.
With a loss by the Atlanta Falcons to the New Orleans Saints Sunday opening the door for the Lions to continue their playoff run, they tripped over the steps and knocked themselves out of the race.
That golden moment they were chasing was the figurative sack of coal.
Q. Bottom line: What added up to cost the Lions the game?
A. Overall, they were simply outplayed by the Bengals. The Bengals had the league’s worst running game, and they ran for more than 150 yards against the Lions.
View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Lions played without poise or precision with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. On offense, right guard Don Barclay – - a sub for injured starter T.J. Lang – had three penalties.
On defense, Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs were flagged for interference twice, and there were two offside penalties up front.
Most surprisingly, Matthew Stafford had one of his least effective performances of the season. He did not lead the team to a big win in a critical moment as most would have expected.
The Lions had a flicker of hope when they took the lead in the fourth quarter, but it went out quickly.
Q. Taking the lead: Was the way the Lions took a 17-16 lead one of the strangest sequences of the season?
A. It was one of many, and it almost defies explanation – except that’s football.
The Lions were set to go for it on fourth and one at the Bengals’ 46 when right guard Don Barclay was flagged for a false start.
With the punt team out on fourth and six, the Bengals ran into Sam Martin. The five-yard penalty made it fourth and one again.
With a second chance to go for it, Tion Green busted up the middle for 12 yards and a first down.
From there, the Lions were off to the go-ahead TD – a 29-yard pass to Eric Ebron, then Green’s five-yard TD run through a gaping hole in the left side of the line.
Q. Giving up the lead: The Bengals marched back to take a 19-17 lead on Randy Bullock's 51-yard field goal with just under five minutes left. What were the key plays?
A. Two penalties against the Lions’ secondary hurt. The most critical one was a holding penalty on Diggs. It was third and 12 from the Bengals’ 35, and they would have had to punt. Instead they got a first down to continue the drive to the winning field goal.
Q. First half blahs: It ended with a short field goal by the Bengals that cut the Lions’ lead to 7-6 at the intermission. How would you characterize the first 30 minutes?
A. It was uninspiring for both teams, and disappointing in terms of the Lions performance.
It looked like a game in Week 16 between two teams that had long-ago been eliminated from the playoffs.
That was not the case for the Lions. They had everything to play for, and they were not sharp.
**Q. First strike: On their third possession, the Lions scored their first TD on Stafford’s 35-yard pass to Eric Ebron. What was different about that possession compared to the first two?
A. The Lions put the ball in Stafford’s hands, and he delivered on a four-play scoring drive: Completions to Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., then the TD pass to Ebron after his third pass of the possession was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
The offense went with its best – Stafford throwing to a good group of pass catchers. They ran the ball on the first two plays of the first two possession.
Q. First pick: The Lions were in good position to add to their lead with a first down at the Bengals’ 46 with 1:11 left in the half. The Lions blew the scoring chance when Stafford had a pass intercepted. What happened?
A. Stafford was hit by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict just before he released the ball. The ball went straight to Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey for the interception. The Bengals used the turnover to drive 44 yards in eight plays to set up Randy Bullock’s 27-yard field goal, his second of the game.
Q. Run game, Bengals: They went into the game ranked last in the league with an average of 77 yards per game. They gashed the Lions for 87 yards in the first half. Any surprise?
A. Detroit’s run defense has been inconsistent all season. There have been good games against good teams – like the Steelers, Bears and Cardinals. And there have been bad games against bad teams, and the first half fell into that category.
Q. Run game, Lions: They went into the game ranked 31st in the league – that’s next to last. Any surprise that they gained only 24 yards on 10 official carries against a Bengals’ defense that ranked last in the league against the run?
A. No surprise – and the 24 yards is sugarcoating it. Stafford gained seven of those yards on a scramble. The Lions actually gained only 17 yards on nine carries by their running backs.
Q. Fourth and kick: In the third quarter the Lions had fourth and two and tried a game-tying 50-yard field goal. Matt Prater’s attempt was short. The Bengals had a 13-10 lead at the time.
A. It can’t be overlooked that the decision was made after Marvin Jones Jr. couldn’t come up with a catch on a short throw that would have gained enough for a first down.
It wasn’t the wrong call, and the majority of coaches would have done the same with a kicker like Prater. He has proven himself as a clutch kicker from long range.
I would have been very, very, very, very tempted to go for it – and hope the play gained a first down.
Q. Wrapping up: Did that play and decision typify the day?
A. It did in a lot of ways. It was how the game went most of the day – more hope than reality.
And now the reality is that the Lions end the season at home next week against the Packers in a game that doesn’t mean anything.