Every week during the summer, positive or negative, we’re counting down the top 10 turning points from the season before.
Call it a curse, misfortune, bad luck or simply constantly finding a way to steal defeat from the jaws of victory, the Detroit Lions have made a franchise habit of making bizarre plays at the end of games which lead in losing.
In 2013, though there is certainly a few options to choose from, no one play may have summed this idea up quite like rookie punter Sam Martin’s late, phantom shank against the Cincinnati Bengals.
With Detroit having forged an impressive comeback to tie the score late in the game despite problems offensively and defensively, Martin’s errant kick gave Cincinnati new life late in a game which seemed destined for overtime.
Detroit’s dubious play calling and several misfires from Matthew Stafford on the would-be game winning drive didn’t help, but Martin had one job, and it was to pin the Bengals deeper and force Andy Dalton to go the length of the field to win the game. The worst Detroit should have done was overtime.
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Instead, the punt mysteriously wobbled off Martin’s foot and ended up at Cincinnati’s 49 yard line, only half a field away with plenty of time left on the clock. It was a stunning choke by the first year man, who until this moment, had done everything right in his young career, from getting the ball off quick to punting with distance. All told, Martin racked up 3,399 yards with 10 touchbacks and 22 punts downed inside the 20, which was solid for a rookie.
But, with the reasoning that he felt a quick rush coming, Martin’s notable 28 yard shank in a big moment jump started the Bengals. Dalton, who had been criticized as anti-clutch before, needed only two short passes and 15 yards to set Mike Nugent up for a game winning 54 yard field goal. Predictably, it was right down the middle. Detroit had done it again.
It was a stunning choke by the first year man, who until this moment, had done everything right in his young career, from getting the ball off quick to punting with distance.
The loss stung, especially considering the highlight reel catch Calvin Johnson had made in the midst of the comeback. Over three defenders, Johnson reached up and plucked the ball from the sky in an overwhelming show of talent. As usual, the play would become a simple footnote wrapped within another frustrating loss.
Somehow, the Lions would rally and pick themselves up, winning the next two games consecutively and keeping the season temporarily on the tracks. However, the effects of this loss hung around in the minds of fans, and proved that the Lions still had the ability to frustrate at the most inopportune time of a game.
The rookie would be forgiven for the temporary gaffe. Eventually, Jim Schwartz and company, fueled by another later mistake involving Martin upcoming in the countdown, would not be.