Lions Squander 1st Place in NFC North
Since their 21-19 victory in Chicago in week 10, the Lions have gone 1-4, with their only victory coming at home against the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving, minus Aaron Rodgers of course. Now it’s those same Packers they trail in the NFC North, a game and a half behind, but they are also a full game behind the first place Chicago Bears as well.
No longer do the Lions control their own destiny for the playoffs. They’ll need to win out (plausible with matchups against the Giants and Vikings ahead) and they’ll also need a loss a piece from both Chicago and Green Bay, who play each other in week 17 and face Philadelphia and Pittsburgh respectively in week 16.
Could it happen? Yes.
Do the Lions deserve for it to happen? No.
You’re unlikely to find any competent NFL fan or pundit that will disagree with the fact that Monday night’s game was Detroit’s to lose. All the Lions had to do was play smart football for 60 minutes, and they would have defeated the defending Super Bowl Champions and retained first place in the NFC North.
The game was Detroit’s to lose because the Lions are an extremely talented football team - “as talented as any team in the league,” Dilfer said after the 18-16 loss to Baltimore.
And it’s the pinnacle of the team’s talent that is going to receive the most scrutiny after this most recent disappointment.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have as much combined potential as any QB/WR duo in the history of the NFL. Johnson is arguably the most talented receiver to ever play the game and Stafford has one of the strongest throwing arms the league has ever seen. Yet for whatever reason, the Lions don’t have the type of offense that really makes defenses fret the way they do for Peyton Manning’s Broncos or Drew Brees and the Saints or Brady or Rodgers. And why is that? Two simple things: execution and consistency.
We saw the it in the first half when Johnson dropped a pair of first down passes, easy catches that would have kept key drives alive. The defense was beaten and all Johnson had to do was hold on to the ball, but the execution wasn’t there.
Then in the second half, Stafford let the game get away from him, misjudging a Kris Durham cross route for his second interception of the night and then throwing one of the most inaccurate downfield passes of his career a few feet behind and above Nate Burleson for the third and final pick of the game.
And what’s equally perplexing is that Stafford and Johnson aren’t alone on the offense. Sure the receiving crew could use a few additions, but the running duo of Joique Bell and Reggie Bush has been absolutely great all year and the offensive line has given Stafford all the time he’s needed to find the right targets throughout the season.
The offensive play calling could have been better throughout the game, especially in finding a way to get more passes out to Bell and Bush (combined for 3 catches, 38 yards on 6 targets), but Stafford and Johnson are going to rightfully take the hit for this game. They failed to capitalize in a game the team should have won and needed to win in order to maintain their playoff hold. Now it’s going to take some help from their division foes to avoid a second straight season without playoffs.