Quarterback Matthew Stafford made himself a willing candidate to be the fall guy for the Detroit Lions' latest loss with a chance to rise from the ranks of pretenders to contenders.
There were plenty of candidates to take the blame in Sunday's 41-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that really was as one-sided as the score would indicate.
Offense, defense, special teams – and coaching, of course – all had a hand in the latest loss at Ford Field.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at how the game got away from the Lions early and late, and the history of missed opportunities to raise their status. There are also takeaways on offense, defense and special teams and what's trending for the Lions.
We start with Stafford:
1. Taking the blame: It was not one of Stafford's better games, even though the stats were decent – 336 yards passing, three touchdowns and one interception. But the interception was the second misplay by Stafford after a lost fumble.
The Colts used the two mistakes to score two touchdowns in an eight-second span early in the fourth quarter to extend a narrow 20-14 lead – with the Lions in possession of the ball in Colts territory – to a 35-14 runaway.
"If you guys want to put it on somebody, put it on me," Stafford said in his postgame press conference.
"I can't turn the ball over twice."
He's right, of course.
2. Spreading blame: It didn't help how the Lions' defense reacted after the Colts recovered Stafford's fumble at their 40-yard line. On third and 14 at the Lions' 45, cornerback Justin Coleman was flagged for interference. That gave the Colts first and goal at the four.
Three plays later, they scored on a run from the one-yard line and added a two-point conversion to make their lead 28-14.
The interception return eight seconds later made it 35-14.
Fumble. Interference call. Interception return.
That's how fast a game can get out of reach.
3. Run game: I get it that it's important to run the ball, even when it isn't working. And I also get it that play calling probably gets second guessed more than the strategy in any other sport.
Having said that, I think it's fair to question offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's play selection in the first half.
The Lions ran six first-down plays in the first 29 minutes of the first half. They ran on first down the first three times for a net gain of three yards. After passing on the next two first downs, they ran for a three-yard loss on the sixth first-down play.
That's four runs on first down for a net of no gain.
When they got the ball back for the last 53 seconds of the half they passed on all seven plays -- as you'd expect in that situation -- to get in field-goal range. Kicker Matt Prater missed on a 48-yard attempt.
4. Lions at 3-3: It definitely has not been the spark when the Lions have gotten to .500 with three wins.
They were 3-3 in 2018, then lost three straight and five of the next six, with an ultimate finish of 6-10.
A victory in Week 7 last season made them 3-3-1. Stafford sustained a season-ending back injury in a Week 9 loss to the Raiders. The Lions lost all eight games without him, finishing at 3-12-1.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- The run game has gone cold. After a 180-yard breakout against the Jaguars, the Lions were held to 64 yards by the Falcons and 29 by the Colts.
- The 29-yard total is misleading. It included a 10-yard scramble by Stafford. On 12 called runs, the Lions gained 17 yards.
- Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. still has value. He had three catches for 39 yards and two TDs. In last week's win at Atlanta he had five catches for 80 yards. I wouldn't put much stock, if any, in reports that he might be on the trading block. The deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- The defense contributed to a one-sided first half by giving up 15 first downs on 42 plays, and a possession time for the Colts of just over 22 of the 30 minutes.
- The Colts did what the Lions wanted to do – control the game on the ground. They rushed for 119 yards and had nine rushing first downs to two for the Lions.
- Something good: Linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. tied for the team lead with 10 tackles and two of the team's six tackles for loss.
7. Takeaways, special teams:
- Jack Fox had to field two low snaps from center, but still averaged 52.4 yards on five punts with a net of 46 yards.
- Jamal Agnew had a long return of 33 yards on one of two kickoff returns. The coverage unit, which has been excellent all season, gave up a long kickoff return of 31 yards.
- Up: Jones with two TD catches. That gives him 45 for his career and 30 as a Lion.
- Down: Run offense – 13 carries, 29 yards counting Stafford's 10-yard scramble.
- Even: Unfortunately, the Lions for failing to get above .500 for the third straight time with records of 3-3, 3-3-1 and 3-3.