Turnovers, Poor Clock Management Cost Lions
There were two main reasons for the loss on Sunday: turnovers and poor clock management.
The Buccaneers played mistake-free ball offensively while the Lions turned the ball over a whopping 5 times, 4 of the turnovers coming from Matthew Stafford interceptions (though they definitely weren’t all his fault). The first interception took a strange and very unfortunate bounce right into the arms of Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David. Then the second one came right near the end of the second quarter. Stafford was looking for tight end Brandon Pettigrew crossing towards the sidelines, but Leonard Johnson jumped in front and returned the pass 48 yards to give Tampa Bay a 17-14 lead going into the half. It was a ball that Stafford shouldn’t have thrown or should have either thrown earlier or perhaps later when Johnson didn’t have an ideal angle of attack, but Pettigrew also could have made a better effort for it.
In the second half, the turnovers continued. Safety Keith Tandy picked off Stafford midway through third when the Lions were in the redzone. Then midway through the fourth, wide receiver Kris Durham fumbled the ball just before stepping out of bounds for the fourth turnover of the night. And as if the first four turnovers weren’t enough, Stafford was picked off again with just under a minute left when the Lions were attempting to either knot the game up at 24 or take the lead with a last drive touchdown. Stafford heaved a ball to Calvin Johnson, down to about the 3-yard line and Johnson had it in his arms before he was hit and the ball popped out right into the arms of Johnthan Banks. The Lions only had 2 timeouts so the Buccaneers were able to take a knee three times to run the clock out and secure their 24-21 victory.
While the turnovers have received the main headlines for the Lions loss, the poor clock management was almost equally important. They could have still won game with those 5 turnovers had the game been run properly.
Jim Schwartz’s main weakness as a coach is his overall management of game logistics. The examples of this are numerous. You can look back at the challenge flag he threw last thanksgiving when Justin Forsett of the Houston Texans broke a long touchdown run. Through replays it was clear he was down after about 5 yards. A year and a half ago, the NFL introduced the rule that all turnovers and scoring plays would be subject to review, but Schwartz’s challenge flag negated the review process and the illegitimate touchdown stood.
Then look back at week 2 this season, the Lions’ first loss of the year. They had a 14-10 lead against the Arizona Cardinals with 53 seconds to go in the first half and had just gotten the ball back on their own 20 with three timeouts, but Schwartz chose to run out the clock rather than at least try out a few longballs to, I don’t know, say the best wide receiver in the NFL who had already scored a 72-yard touchdown and totaled 116 yards on 6 catches and only 8 targets on the day. When starting on your own 20-yard line with 53 seconds and 3 timeouts, any NFL offense should at least have the ability to get in field goal range, especially an offense that features the ridiculous arm of Stafford and the unstoppable Calvin Johnson.
Schwartz’s clock management follies against the Buccaneers came at the end of the first half and at the end of the game. With about 2:45 to go in the first half, the Buccaneers had just come up short on 3rd down, around their own 20-yard line. Instead of using one of his three timeouts, Schwartz allowed the clock to run and the Buccaneers punted the ball away, taking the clock down to 1:54, soaking up about a minute of game clock and rendering the 2-minute warning useless. Now, the Lions had the ball with under two minutes and three timeouts, instead of what would have been about 2 and a half minutes with 2 timeouts and the two-minute warning. The Lions got the ball up to about midfield with under a minute left when Stafford threw his second pick of the night. Maybe the pick would have still happened if the team had that extra minute or so, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as rushed so it’s possible Stafford would have looked elsewhere or thrown the ball away.
Then during the Lions final drive, Schwartz called the team’s first timeout before 3rd and 12 when the clock was already stopped because of an incompletion. It was a timeout specifically used to call a play. The following play ended up being the fourth Stafford interception of the night and because the Lions had burned one of their three timeouts, the Bucs were able to run the clock out. Had they retained that first timeout, the offense would have been likely to get another shot at hitting a field goal.
The Packers are next, followed by three other teams in the midst of the playoff hunt: the Eagles, Ravens, and Giants. Still sitting in first place, the Lions have a great shot at getting back to the playoffs, but more care and efficiency is required to close out the season and avoid another disappointing year that finishes in week 17.