Skip to main content

O'HARA: What we learned from Week 16

If you are a fan of football, or sports in general, and watched the triple header of NFL games on television Saturday and any of the key games Sunday and Monday night, then you should have a stronger feeling for the mandate handed down by Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford in last week's announcement that GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia will return next year.

Ford said she expects the Lions to be a playoff contender next season, and to play "meaningful games in December."

What we learned in the Lions' 27-17 loss to the Denver Broncos is that December is a fun month when you're in playoff contention, and it's something less than that when you're not. All the games mean something, at some level, but teams work to be in the race, and the Lions were out of it again early this year.

Among the other things we learned include the following: Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough gave a hint of what might be coming from a young tandem of running backs – and they liked it; the defense missed more than one opportunity to close the door, and that made an impact; and head coach Matt Patricia is not a good choice for a person to ask about playing games that some people might consider meaningless.

We start with meaningful games in December:

What was meaningful for the Lions in December this season was last week's announcement that Quinn and Patricia will return in their same roles in 2020.

On the field, it was a different story. The Lions were out of realistic contention before Thanksgiving.

While it hasn't happened in the last two seasons, the Lions were playoff contenders and played meaningful games in December nearly every season from 2011 through 2017.

They made the playoffs as a wild card in 2011, 2014 and 2016. They were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 15 in 2013 and 2017. And in 2015, they started out 1-7 but got back in contention only to have their hopes dashed by a loss to the Packers on Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary TD pass on the last play of the game.

The Lions didn't win a playoff game in that stretch, and they blew chances to make the playoffs late in the 2013 and 2017 seasons.

But they were in the race in December – twice playing the Packers in showdowns for the division title in the last regular-season game.

Take nothing away from what the players did in seasons like the last two, or in 2012 when they were 4-12.

But what we learned in games like Sunday and many before it, when both teams are well below .500, is that it's so much more fun and exciting for everyone when the Lions are in the race.

Every play is an adventure, with a lot riding on it.

Running tandem: Johnson and Scarborough both returned to play against the Broncos after being out with injuries. It was a more dramatic return for Johnson, who was the Lions' No. 1 back and had missed the previous eight games with a knee injury.

Scarbrough was signed in midseason and had played four games before going out for a week with a rib injury.

Johnson had 10 carries for 42 yards against the Broncos. Scarbrough had eight carries for 34 yards.

What they did on back-to-back plays in the third quarter is what sparked a potential vision of the future.

Johnson, who's a breakaway threat, made a sharp cut to get an eight-yard gain. On the next play, Scarbrough showed his power by breaking through a hole for an 18-yard gain.

Thunder and lightning?

"I got way too excited," said Johnson, who'd gone to the sideline for that play. "It's exciting to see what we possibly could do."

Defense, missed opportunities: Although the defense gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns on long drives that ultimately decided the outcome, we learned that there are times earlier in the game when the defense can make an impact.

The Lions' defense had that chance after Jamal Agnew's 64-yard punt return for a TD gave them a 10-0 lead with just under 11 minutes left in the first half.

It was a good time for the defense to make a stand, force a punt, and give the offense an opportunity to add to the lead.

None of that happened.

The Broncos drove 75 yards on nine plays to a touchdown that cut the lead to 10-7. It changed the complexion of the game. The Broncos never faced a third down on that possession, and they were back in the game when the Lions could have widened the lead.

The two fourth-quarter touchdowns stood out, but so did the one in the second quarter.

Meaningless?: Not to Patricia. He was asked Sunday about players performing in games that some people might consider meaningless.

"Every game means something," he said. "That's why we play.

"That's why we come to work every day."

Related Content