The Detroit Lions have hit the halfway mark of their season with a 3-4-1 record. That makes them a sub .500 team after the first eight games, and their record doesn’t lie.
They are, as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells used to say, what their record says they are.
They’re pretty much the same team that started the season with a tie against the Arizona Cardinals. They put up big numbers on offense, mostly on the strength of quarterback Matthew Stafford and his receivers making up for the absence of a running game. The defense gets turnovers at times but has a hard time stopping anybody.
Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders was a microcosm of the first half of the season. They can play well enough on offense to offer hope that they could have won more games. The defense has enough trouble stopping the run and pass to make it seem like they could have lost more.
This week’s Monday Countdown looks at the last possessions that decided Sunday’s game. There are takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what’s trending and the bottom line.
We start with a quote from Stafford, that puts some perspective in when games are won and lost.
1. QB speaks: There is plenty to analyze and criticize on the game’s last two possessions – the Raiders’ go-ahead possession, and the Lions’ possession that fell one yard and a questionable play call short.
But there were 131 plays run by the two teams combined, and all of those plays counted. The Lions were driving on the first possession of the game when running back J.D. McKissic fumbled the handoff. Stafford had an interception in the end zone on a pass meant for wide receiver Kenny Golladay, when the Lions had the ball at the Raiders’ 20-yard line with a 14-7 lead.
“A lot of close games,” Stafford said. “That’s the way this game goes. That’s the way the league goes. Just got to find ways to win, make a couple plays here and there, not always at the end of the game.
“They can be at the beginning of the game, too, to give us a little more cushion.”
The interception and lost fumble likely cost the Lions at least six points, on two field goals. Had everything stayed the same – and that’s probably not likely – the Lions could have been kicking a chip-shot field goal to win the game Sunday instead of throwing a pass into the end zone.
2. Raiders drive, TD: When they needed a TD to break a 24-24 tie, they had to drive 75 yards on their last possession of the game. They drove 66 yards and called time out when they were facing a third and goal at the Lions’ nine-yard line.
Whatever was said in the strategy session worked. Quarterback Derek Carr rolled left and hit wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in the end zone for the go-ahead TD with 2:04 left.
3. Lions drive: When the Lions needed to go 77 yards after the ensuing kickoff, they drove 76 yards. Before they could run another play, with eight seconds left, the Raiders called time to set up their defense for the Lions’ fourth and goal play from the one.
On the fateful play, Stafford threw into the end zone to backup tight end Logan Thomas. The ball never got to him, Karl Joseph broke it up in the end zone for the Raiders, clinching the win.
Bottom line: Two possessions. Two drives. Two plays that the Raiders made – one on offense, one on defense – that the Lions could not make.
Stafford didn’t seem to have a problem with the play selection. He said it was a play that the Lions had worked on in practice for a goal-line situation.
4. The best rest: The Lions’ top three receivers – Golladay, Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones Jr. – were not on the field for the final play. Stafford said the play was one that they had practiced during the week, for a goal-line situation.
I get the concept that there are packages for situations. But I’d prefer to go down with my starters. In this case, spread the field and let Stafford find an open man – like he did on a fourth-down pass to Jones on fourth and two for the Lions’ first touchdown.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- Six rushing first downs and 90 yards is an off day for most teams. It’s a bonanza for the Lions, based on what they’ve done recently.
- Stafford said he’d throw the same pass to Golladay in the end zone that was intercepted 10 times out of 10. I’d let him.
- Red zone: The Lions converted a touchdown only once in three tries. With their talent in the passing game, that’s not good enough.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- On the run: After stopping Saquon Barkley and the Giants a week ago, it looked like some of the Lions’ problems were solved in the run game. Not for long. Josh Jacobs ran for 120 yards, and the Raiders had 171 as a team.
- Goal to go: It was gold for the Raiders. They were four for four. Jacobs ran it in twice for TDs.
- Control: Ten rushing first downs showed that the Raiders dominated up front.
7. Takeaways, special teams:
- The Raiders ended up punting, but getting fooled on a fake punt that gained 27 yards was another breakdown on special teams. Otherwise, a pretty quiet day.
- Up: Passing game – again. Three TD passes makes 10 in the last three games.
- Down: Defense. Could not get a single stop in goal to go.
- Holding: Pass protection. Stafford was rushed hard at times but sacked only twice. It was manageable.
9. Bottom line: As head coach Matt Patricia said, ups and downs for all three units during the game shows that the Lions are lacking consistency. However, I’ll settle for an offense generating 473 yards over a defense giving up 450. Those were the stats Sunday.