Titans 44, Lions 41
The Lions were able to convert their first two offensive possessions into points, but unfortunately it was only three points each time as Jason Hanson made field goals of 47 and 53 yards. Points are always nice, but failing to punch the ball into the endzone often proves costly later in the game. And it almost certainly did in this case.
The Tennessee Titans went on to score 20 of the next 23 points – including a punt return for a touchdown (Music City Miracle-esque) and a 61 yard touchdown pass – to take a 20-9 halftime lead. The Lions weren’t completely inept on offense – Mikel LeShoure gave a good debut performance – but they just couldn’t find that drive-sustaining rhythm that Stafford and company treated us to a season ago.
The second-half began in a much more positive manner. The Lions made Calvin Johnson the focus and plugged their way down the field. Mikel LeShoure’s first career touchdown, a fourth Hanson field goal, and a Nate Burleson touchdown (and two-point conversion) lifted the Lions to a 27-20 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
The Lions seemingly had the inside track to victory, but little did we know that there were still FIVE touchdowns to be scored in the game. Tennessee’s Darius Reynaud returned the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown. Then, following a Lions three-and-out, Jake Locker hooked up with receiver Nate Washington for a 71-yard touchdown pass (Washington snatched the ball off of cornerback Jacob Lacey’s back as he failed to even attempt to turn and look for the ball). Finally, Tennessee came up with the dagger as Alterrun Verner ripped the ball out of Brandon Pettigrew’s hands after a completed pass and returned the “fumble” 72 yards to give the Titans a 41-27 lead with 1:32 left to play.
Only it didn’t turn out to be the dagger after all. Shaun Hill entered the game for Matthew Stafford, who came up limping with an apparent lower-body injury (I’ll speculate a groin-pull), and lead the Lions down the field against Tennessee’s prevent defense and eventually hooked up with Calvin Johnson for a three-yard touchdown. Only 20 seconds remained, and the Lions were out of timeouts, so the only play was an onside kick. Hanson’s bouncer squirted through the front line of Titans and took an awkward bounce and ended up in the hands of Amari Spievey at the Tennessee 46 yard line.
After an incomplete pass to Nate Burleson near the sideline, the Lions were down to one final heave toward the end zone. Calvin Johnson was the target, but the ball was batted away – right into the waiting arms of Titus Young who was trailing on the play. The extra point try was good, and it was overtime, it was ecstasy, and it was SHAUN HILL 4 MVP.
The Titans won the toss and, thanks to a series of penalties and wide-open receivers on third down, moved into position for an easy field goal. The game wasn’t over thanks to the new overtime rules that guarantees each team a possession (unless either team scores a touchdown first). Detroit made quick work of moving deep into Titan territory. They didn’t face a third down until they were inside the red zone, but found themselves in a fourth-and-one (probably less than one, actually) situation on the Tennessee seven yard line. A field goal would have been a chip shot for Jason Hanson from that distance, but head coach Jim Schwartz elected (and rightly so in my opinion) to try for the first down in hopes of scoring a game-winning touchdown instead of playing for the tie.
So they lined up with a heavy package and Hill kept the ball on a sneak attempt up the middle, but the play was stuffed for a short loss. The play looked incredibly awkward in real-time, and slow motion replay showed exactly why: center Dominic Raiola apparently missed the snap count and snapped the ball before anyone else was ready for it. It was all Hill could do to hang onto the ball and attempt to dive forward.
And so that was that. It was an incredibly unsatisfactory ending to what be the most exciting end to a game all season. One could argue with Schwartz’s decision not to kick the easy field goal to extend the game, but the defense to that point hadn’t inspired confidence, and that might have been Detroit’s only chance to win the game. Either way, a loss to a team like Tennessee is incredibly disheartening for a team with playoff aspirations. There’s obviously plenty of football left, but teams simply can’t give away winnable games and expect to remain in the hunt late in the year.