Every week during the summer, positive or negative, we’re counting down the top 10 turning points from the season before.
Most of the time, a fake field goal is a tactic used in college football to change momentum in a game. Colleges don’t have the depth of athletes an NFL squad has, making such moves periodically necessary to give teams a jump start.
Knowing that made the Detroit Lions’ decision to attempt a fake field goal in a regular season game they controlled even more confusing. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the rain, however, they did it, which led to their demise in the game and likely the rest of their season as a whole, which to this point was looking charmed.
The Steelers, by their standards, weren’t enjoying a great 2013 season. Entering the game with Detroit, Pittsburgh was 3-6 and a team in decline, showing signs of offensive and defensive age and stagnation. On the other side, the Lions were 6-3 with all the momentum in the world after sweeping the Bears.
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Games, of course, aren’t played in a vacuum, and Detroit struggled to get off to the right start, falling behind 14-0 on a pair of touchdowns by Antonio Brown. Unable to stop the air attack, Detroit would face a 20-10 deficit before rallying for 13 straight points to take a 27-20 halftime lead. Calvin Johnson (179 yards with a score) and Matthew Stafford (362 yards, surpassing Bobby Layne’s career record) were putting on a show, but it felt as if the Lions should be leading by more with the offensive explosion and any semblance of defense missing in action.
Interestingly, the first half would be the end of the Lions’ offensive dominance. Detroit was still clinging to the lead in the third quarter, and after the Steelers had cut the score to 27-23, the Lions were knocking on the door of perhaps putting in a finishing touchdown. When the drive stalled, most figured a field goal would work, especially considering a successful attempt would push the lead back to seven. Considering conditions, a seven point lead in this game felt like more.
Jim Schwartz disagreed with that line of thinking.
Later touting an aggressive mindset, Schwartz rolled the dice on fourth down well within David Akers’ range and called a play rarely seen in the NFL: a fake field goal. Punter Sam Martin rolled to his right and appeared to have an open lane. He fumbled the ball in wet conditions, though, and was crushed, allowing Pittsburgh to recover. The very next drive, the Steelers scored, and never looked back in a 37-27 win.
For those who long wanted Schwartz fired for errors in decision making, a smoking gun that was hard to ignore now existed. Schwartz had taken points off the board and changed the momentum of a very winnable road game. Afterward, the only excuse he could offer was a decree that he’d never play scared.
Schwartz had taken points off the board and changed the momentum of a very winnable road game. Afterward, the only excuse he could offer was a decree that he’d never play scared.
What Schwartz never learned, though, was that there’s a fine line between playing scared and playing stupid. Running puny Martin into the Steelers’ capable linebacking group in a rainstorm wasn’t a recipe for success. As a result of this error, the Steelers won, and Detroit’s season began a familiar tailspin. Up to this point, the Lions were looking like a playoff lock, but this loss ended up being one of many that factored in those dreams going unrealized.
Schwartz’s blunder in judgement may have eventually helped land him on the unemployment line. It certainly helped his team lose the game and a sense of direction in what could have been a very magical season.