After being predicted by many to return to the playoffs, the Detroit Lions have been one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams this year. You can blame a lack of discipline (from the coaching staff on down), you can blame a poor secondary that can’t stop anyone in crunch time, or you could blame conservative play calling – none of that would be wrong – but it all boils down to a lack of execution when the game is on the line.
The Lions sit at just 4-8 – and now certainly out of the playoff hunt – but they’re only three or four bounces of the ball away from seven or eight wins. It’s just been one of those years. It all started in Week Three when center Dominic Raiola snapped the ball a beat early on 4th-and-1 in overtime foiling Shaun Hill’s quarterback sneak attempt before anyone else on the offense was ready. Then there was Thanksgiving day when Jason Hanson’s would-be overtime winner hit the upright and bounced back – not to mention Jim Schwartz’s challenge flag gaffe – the Lions were twice inches away from winning that game. And finally there was today. When the Lions entered the fourth quarter with a nine point lead and couldn’t put the game away – allowing the Colts to cross the goal line for the game winning score as time expired. (You could also include the Green Bay game where the Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown inside of the final two minutes.)
The Lions intercepted rookie quarterback Andrew Luck three times on the afternoon, and held him to a completion percentage below 50%, but couldn’t stop him from finding the end zone four times while racking up 391 passing yards. It all boiled down to a fourth down play from the Detroit 14 yard line with four seconds left. Luck was able to step through a collapsing pocket to his right and found a wide open Donnie Avery dragging across the field in front of him. Luck lead Avery with a soft pass, and the Lions defense couldn’t collapse to the ball before it was too late. The extra point sailed through, and Stafford was shown shaking his head on the sideline in disbelief.
The Lions didn’t play a bad game overall, they simply couldn’t execute with efficiency as the clock began to wind down. With ball in hand at the two minute warning – and Indy out of timeouts – the Lions were a first down away from winning the game. Instead they ran three running plays for a total of six yards and had to kick the ball back to the Colts with just over a minute to play. Somehow, it took Luck only three completions to move the team from their own 25 yard line into the end zone.
We’ve unfortunately become all too familiar with last-second heartbreak like this, but it’s not going to stop until the team (players and coaches) learn to execute with the game on the line. The talent is there – Stafford threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, Calvin Johnson caught 13 balls for 171 yards and a TD, and Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell combined for 138 rushing yards – but the performance hasn’t always been there when they’ve needed someone to step up and secure the game.