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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: How the Lions got off track this season

It's not a good sign when a team's long snapper is sitting in front of his locker after a game with a towel wrapped around his head to shut out the world and the memory of his misplay.

That is the enduring image of the crushing after effects of the Detroit Lions' 14-13 road loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Don Muhlbach – who's been as steady as morning sunrise since taking over as the Lions' long snapper midway through the 2004 season – was in mortal misery for thinking he cost his team the game Sunday because of a bad snap from center on an extra-point try in the second quarter.

The one point ultimately was the difference in the score.

Muhlbach was right to take his misplay to heart – almost to the point of being heartbroken over it – but this week's Monday Countdown looks at how it's stretching a point to say that it cost the Lions the game.

There's a look at how there were other factors that got the Lions off the track – and kept them from getting back on for any extended period -- takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, with an overlooked penalty that was costly to the Lions and a Final Word about being eliminated from the playoffs..

We start with Muhlbach:

1. Snap judgment: It was a bad snap, no question. The Lions had just taken a 6-0 lead on a touchdown pass to Andy Jones with 10:45 left. A 7-0 lead seemed automatic, but it wasn't. Muhlbach's snap to punter and holder Sam Martin was short, and he couldn't handle it.

"It was awful," Muhlbach said when he finally rose to face the media. "I didn't do my job right. I let everybody in here down. It sucks."

It was no consolation to Muhlbach when someone mentioned that bad snaps haven't happened often in his career.

"It shouldn't," he said. "It's my job for it not to happen.

"I just didn't do it."

2. Breaking points: The Lions didn't get to 5-9 because their long snapper botched a snap on an extra point in Week 15.

They lost to the 49ers by three points on the road in Week 2 when an interception by rookie Tracy Walker that would have put them in position to at least tie the game was nullified by a holding penalty on the other side of the field.

They lost to the Cowboys by two points on the road in Week 3 when the defense couldn't stop a drive to a winning field goal after Golden Tate's touchdown catch with just under two minutes left had given the Lions a one-point lead.

They lost to the Bears on Thanksgiving Day when Matthew Stafford had an interception returned for the go-ahead touchdown with six minutes left, then had another interception in the end zone thwart a rally for the tying TD.

Those are three games, all winnable, and all part of why the Lions were a five-win team going into Sunday's game with a marginal chance to make the playoffs that was wiped out by the loss.

None of that excuses what happened Sunday – by Muhlbach or anybody.

The Lions had more than 40 minutes to overcome the missed extra point, and they did. They had a 13-7 lead that was wiped out in the fourth quarter when rookie quarterback Josh Allen hit Robert Foster, who beat rookie Mike Ford – again – for a 42-yard catch and run for what proved to be the winning touchdown and extra point.

3. Missed kick: You also know you're in trouble when Matt Prater, the best long-distance clutch kicker in the league, misses a fourth-quarter kick from 48 yards that would tie the game. Prater's kick sailed wide right with 5:50 left.

It was Prater's first miss in the fourth quarter in three years.

"I know I've made that kick a lot more times than I've missed," Prater said.

4. Last gasp: It was a day of questionable play calling for the Lions' offense, and what proved to be the last possession after Prater's missed kick was bold-type example.

When they got the ball at their 30 with 3:41 left, they ran the following three plays:

Short pass to the right to Kenny Gollalday, that was covered and stopped for a three-yard gain.

Theo Riddick up the middle, stopped for a loss of two yards.

Short pass to the right – on third and nine -- to Levine Toilolo for two yards.

Net gains: Two passes for five yards, an average of 2.5 yards per pass, a net loss of two yards on the only run.

5. Takeaways, defense:

Bills pinned, escape: The Bills started five possessions inside their 20-yard line and got at least one first down all five times. They started one possession at their 20 and punted after three straight incomplete passes.

Off side: Linebacker Jarrad Davis played another strong game, but a critical offside led to the Bills running out the clock. On third and seven at the Lions' 47, Allen's pass was incomplete. The Bills would have been forced to punt with 1:56, but the penalty made it third and two. Two runs – the second a sneak by Allen – got the first down and let the Bills run out the clock.

On the run: With LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory out, the Bills went with what amounted to their third- and fourth-string running backs in Marcus Murphy and Keith Ford. They combined to rush for 81 yards. Fullback Patrick DiMarco added nine yards on his only run. It wasn't terrible run defense, but it wasn't good. Certainly not as good as it should have been – especially since Allen was held to 16 yards on nine runs.

The defense, all things considered, played well enough to win.

6. Takeaways, offense:

Short stuff: It was all or nothing, and mostly nothing in the passing game. Matthew Stafford completed 22 of 29 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Kenny Golladay had seven catches on eight targets for 145 yards. Toilolo had four catches on four targets for 28 yards.

But here's the rub: Toilolo had a long catch of 18 yards. That means nine of Stafford's attempts – to Golladay and Toilolo – gained 163 yards – an average of 18.1 yards per attempt.

The other 20 attempts gained 45 yards, an average of 2.25 yards per attempt.

Scoring drought: The Lions have been under 20 points the last four games, and they've gone over 20 just once in the last eight – a 22-point "binge" in a road loss to the Bears. They've scored 127 points in the last eight games, for an average of 15.875 per game.

They have not been in a scoring slump. The offense is what it is – deficient.

7. Takeaways, special teams: A penalty that seems to have escaped attention actually changed the game.

Quandre Diggs returned a punt 23 yards to the Lions' 49 with 13:25 left in the fourth quarter. It was a good starting point to extend the Lions' 13-7 lead with a field goal or a touchdown. But it was called back on a penalty to the 18. A run for minus three, incomplete pass and a five-yard pass – on third and 13 – forced a punt.

The Bills started the possession at their 39 and drove to the winning touchdown.

Handy Andy Jones: He scored his first pro touchdown in the second quarter. As a reward, he got to take his place on the kickoff coverage team – and tackled the return man at the 13.

8. The Last Word: As unrealistic as it seemed that the Lions could win out to get to 8-8 and make the playoffs, it was something to shoot for.

"I believe we still had a chance to make something happen, some way, somehow, and make it to the big dance," said cornerback Nevin Lawson. "Unfortunately, we came up short today."

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