One bad game can be considered a blip on the schedule. A throwaway game. They happen,
Two bad games? An anomaly. The hangover effect after one loss leads to another.
Three in a row? That's a different story.
Three in a row of anything in sports is a trend, and this week's Monday Countdown looks at how the Detroit Lions are bucking a trend with three straight losses. To borrow an old country phrase, Sunday's 34-22 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field piled ugly on top of a double load of ugly from the previous two losses to the Seahawks and Vikings.
There's a look this week at how the offense has sputtered all around in the three games – quarterback, running game and pass protection. While other teams are putting up record-setting yards and points, the Lions are entrenched in a rut that's hard to fathom how it has endured over three games. And there's a Golden Tate factor to consider, but not in the way most people would look at it, takeaways on offense and defense, and a strategy question about the way the first half ended.
Overall, the mood after Sunday's loss was that of a team groping – and hoping – to find answers to the team's nose dive. In that vein, we start with what Jarrad Davis said after Sunday's loss that sums up the mood of a team trying to find their way out of the slump that has sent their season into a downward spiral:
1. Searching for answers: Davis didn't pull any punches about how the defense has been played of late. If there was anything good Sunday, it was the run defense – 54 yards allowed on 22 carries. The secondary got torched by Mitchell Trubisky for 355 yards, three TDs and a passer rating of 148.6.
The Bears scored touchdowns on their first four possessions. Play after play, Trubisky was throwing to receivers who were wide open – and with more room to tack on yards after the catch.
"To come out and perform like this Sunday in, Sunday out, it's tough," Davis said. "It's hard to describe it. We haven't put together a full game yet."
2. Takeaways on defense:
Big-play breakdown: Take your pick of back-breakers. My choice: On third and 15 in the second quarter, Allen Robinson got behind DeShawn Shead for a 36-yard catch for Chicago's second TD and a 13-0 lead. On third and 15 what else is more important to cover than a deep ball?
Sack-less: For the second straight game, the Lions had one sack. They had three quarterback hits Sunday, and only one hit the previous week against the Vikings. Total production: Two sacks, four hits in two games. That's a trend. There doesn't have to be a third game to validate that.
Secondary: There was obvious confusion at times in the secondary. Trubisky completed 23 of 30 passes to go with Russell Wilson's 14 of 17 for Seattle and Kirk Cousin's 18 of 22 for the Vikings. That's 14 incomplete passes against the Lions in the last three games. That won't win anything.
3. Scoring drought: The Lions went eight quarters without a touchdown and most of a ninth before Kerryon Johnson ended the dry spell with a leap into the end zone from a yard out in the second quarter.
That means in actual time, from Marvin Jones Jr.'s TD catch against Seattle with 2:15 left in the first quarter to Johnson's TD leap with 1:05 left in the first half Sunday, the Lions had scored one TD in a span of two hours, 16 minutes, 10 seconds.
That sounds almost impossible to do with a quarterback in Matthew Stafford's who's been historically productive in terms of generating yards and touchdowns.
4. Takeaways on offense:
Pass protection: After being sacked 10 times by the Vikings a week ago, Stafford was sacked six more times Sunday. That's 16 sacks in two games.
Ugly stat: The Lions have given up more sacks (16) in two games than the 14 incomplete passes opposing quarterbacks have thrown in the last three games.
Blount talk: Touchdowns haven't been the only thing to come by in the last three games. LeGarrette Blount had 10 carries for 50 yards against the Dolphins. Since then he's had three carries for three yards against Seattle, five carries for eight yards against the Vikings and six carries against the Bears. That's 14 carries for 15 yards.
5. Tate effect: Obviously, there's no way to prove this. And there's no disagreement with trading Golden Tate to the Eagles for a third-round draft pick next year.
But in the two games the Lions have played since trading Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay have not thrived as many expected. In other words, the targets and the catches and yards that Tate produced have not automatically gone to Jones and Golladay.
Tate, Golladay and Jones fit together as a complementary trio. Tate gave Stafford a receiver in the short zones who had to be accounted for because of his ability to get yards after the catch. That took some attention off Jones and Golladay, leaving somewhat more freedom on deep and intermediate routes.
They haven't seemed to have the same room without Tate. Time will tell if this really is a trend.
What's obvious now, though, is that the offense has no productive No. 3 receiver, and no tight end has stepped up at all as a receiving threat.
6. Kick start: Bears kicker Cody Parkey missed two field goal attempts and two extra points, hitting the uprights on all four kicks. After the Bears' fifth touchdown, head coach Matt Nagy had his team went for a two-point conversion – with a 32-10 lead before the two-point try.
The Bears got the two points on a pass to Trey Burton – who was wide open. I doubt if Nagy was rubbing it in, and the way to prevent would be to not let the opponent score. But given the margin at the time, it had the look of something one team would do in a training-camp drill during combined workouts between two teams.
Basically, it looked like the Bears were practicing a play against the Lions.
7. NFC North race: The Lions aren't mathematically eliminated, but they aren't in contention.
They have to play a good game, somehow, some way. Everything starts with that. Nothing else.
8. Strategy: I got a text message that said, "Why no timeout?" when the Bears ran out the clock at the end of the first half.
I thought the same thing. On second and nine from their 11, the Bears snapped the ball with 53 seconds and completed a pass for a one-yard gain, making it third and eight at the 11. They did not call time and the Bears ran a third-down play that let time expire.
Calling time would have stopped the clock. If the Bears had not gotten a first down and punted, the Lions could have called for a fair catch. Under the rules, they would have gotten a free kick from the point of the catch, even with no time on the clock.
Matt Prater is an elite long-distance kicker. With no risk of a return, it would have been worth calling time to get a shot at adding three points that would have trimmed the lead to 26-10 – as the Lions did on Prater's 52-yard field goal on the first possession of the second half.
Points are important.