O’HARA: What we learned from Week 9

When things are going bad, the way they are now with the Detroit Lions, the bad overshadows the good.

It even overshadows the very good.

That’s one of the things we learned from the Detroit Lions’ 31-24 road loss to the Oakland Raiders.

It was the Lions’ fourth loss in the last five games and dropped their record to 3-4-1. The losses are overshadowing the fact that quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a monster season with his production that is rivaling his breakout 2011 season.

Among the other things we learned are the following: The Lions’ continuing problem of not closing out games has been the most prominent feature of the first half of their season; even though their playoff chances were slim going into the game, failing to take advantage of the other three NFC North teams losing Sunday made the Lions’ own loss seem worse; and the Lions’ defense is on track to set an unwanted franchise record.

We start with Stafford being overshadowed:

Stafford is rolling up passing yards and touchdowns at a rate that is challenging his personal bests of 2011. In his first full season, after being limited to 13 of 32 games his first two seasons because of injuries, Stafford passed for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.

He led the Lions to a 10-6 won-loss record and their first playoff berth since they squeaked in as a wild card in 1999 with an 8-8 record. The Dallas Cowboys also got in as a wild card at 8-8.

Winning and losing trump everything – as they should – and what Stafford is doing this season is going largely unnoticed except for fans who regularly turn to the statistics sheets.

Through eight games he has passed for 2,499 yards, and his average of 312.4 passing yards per game is No. 1 in the league – by one yard over Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. Stafford is second in the league with 19 TD passes, three behind the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who has played nine games, one more than Stafford.

Stafford is among the leaders with an average gain of 8.6 yards per pass attempt, and he’s No. 1 with 41 completions of 20 yards or longer. He’s third with eight completions of 40 yards or longer.

In other words, he’s getting his yards by throwing the ball deep, which reflects first-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s schemes that get the ball downfield. Stafford’s average is almost two yards more than last year’s average of 6.8 yards per attempt under former coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

All of that, of course, is understandably overshadowed by the Lions’ record and their recent plummet in the division standings.

However, that doesn’t mean Stafford is putting up meaningless yards. Given the team’s numerous problems, the Lions’ best chance to win rests on his arm.

Closing out: It’s been more of an open invitation to the end zone. The Lions were victimized again by the Raiders, who went 75 yards on seven plays. They moved the ball with such ease that they faced only one third down, and that was a third-and-nine on the last play – a nine-yard TD pass.

Giving up the go-ahead touchdown on the Raiders’ last possession is a problem that has dogged the Lions since the opening game. The Cardinals tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion on their last possession of regulation tie. Since the opener, the Chiefs (TD), Packers (field goal) and now the Raiders (TD) scored the game-winner on their last possession.

Missed chance: Missed opportunities haven’t happened only on the field. The Packers, Vikings and Bears also lost, but the loss to the Raiders kept the Lions from gaining ground on the other three NFC North teams.

History misery: The Lions’ defense has given up an average of 424.1 yards per game, second most in the league behind only the Bengals’ 435.8-yard average.

It also has the Lions on track to surpass what the Lions allowed per game when they finished last in defense three straight seasons, from 2007-2009 with average yards allowed of 377.6, 404.4 and 392.1.

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