Friday night into Saturday morning, the Detroit Lions lost to the Oakland Raiders, but had plenty of positive moments. Matthew Stafford excelled. An opportunistic defense pressured the opposition, and a rookie kicker showed guts nailing a 55 yard field goal.
One area that was a negative, however, related to penalties. Detroit collected 11 on the night for 74 yards, and when the game was on the line, the Lions made two critical mistakes to jump-start the Raiders. This was in stark contrast to last week, when the Lions were much more disciplined throughout against the Cleveland Browns, collecting only five calls for 32 yards and watching the opposition sustain all the late meltdowns.
First, instead of holding Oakland to a field goal, the Lions were caught with too many men, helping to prolong a drive and eventually leading to a touchdown. Then, near the end, rookie cornerback Nevin Lawson draped his left hand behind a Raider receiver. The call was easily pass interference, and a few plays later, Oakland won the game.
Included in Detroit’s penalty barrage were also the usual sprinkling of encroachment, holding and illegal contact calls, all of which have doomed the team recently. Despite all the positive elements, the game began to take on a feel of one step forward, two steps back considering all the calls and the moments in which they became most critical and devastating in the game.
“They make the biggest difference, I think,” Jim Caldwell said about penalties to DetroitLions.com writer Tim Twentyman afterward. “When you look at the other categories, you probably look and say we were playing pretty well. The big problem was extending drives with penalties. Any time you do that, you could be playing really well and it sort of takes away from it. It is kind of unforced errors—so, we have to do a better job in that area. We have to coach it better and we have to play better.”
Caldwell’s frustration with Detroit’s Jekyll and Hyde mentality regarding penalties has likely only just begun. It’s something the team has been fighting for years no matter who’s coaching. For as many elite plays as the Lions are capable of making, they can throw everything away in an instant with lapses. Truly, changing that will be like trying to uproot a redwood tree. The culture has become that embedded.
Preseason or not, no matter the circumstances behind the loss, it felt like the Lions took a step in the wrong direction Friday. One badly disciplined night doesn’t erase all the positives, but it certainly does show the difficulty of what Caldwell and company are desperately fighting to change.
Still, thanks to decades of history, asking Lions’ fans for any patience on this particular matter will be a nearly impossible sell.