Quarter by Quarter: A Breakdown of the Lions' Turkey Day Tumble
November 23rd, 2017, 5:08 PM
♦ After a rousing national anthem and a healthy kick return from T.J. Jones, it felt like the perfect time for the Lions to heat up that big arm of Matthew Stafford and take a shot deep down the field. No dice. Jim Bob Cooter instead called two short throws and a shotgun draw to Ameer Abdullah that accounted for nine yards. Sam Martin came in to punt and a major opportunity to throw an early haymaker went by the boards.
♦ Case Keenum had so much time to throw during the Vikings’ opening drive that on one drop-back, he actually phoned in a carryout to Lafayette, had the coneys delivered to him mid-play, and polished off two-on-one with heavy chili before completing a 14-yard pass.
♦ The Lions get their first break. On a must-have 3rd-and-2, Stafford throws incomplete but the zebras toss a penalty flag and the drive stays alive. Down by 13 already, the Lions could not afford to begin this quarter the same way they started the first.
♦ Great teams take the opponent’s mistakes and make them pay full price. The Lions marched down to the Vikings’ 14-yard line, but then came up empty on four consecutive pass plays (one with offsetting penalties). A touchdown would have signaled a much-needed shift in momentum to the home side. Instead, it was a Matt Prater field goal and another missed opportunity to get a hungry Detroit crowd into the game.
♦ Can an NFL team win a game exclusively on blocked kicks? The Lions are testing that hypothetical today. They just deflected a long Kai Forbath field goal and also swatted a Vikes’ extra point attempt earlier.
♦ Kenny Golladay comes up with the best Lions play of the first half, hauling in a difficult catch deep down the sideline. If the rookie doesn’t hold on to the rock, with less than 30 second left, Jim Caldwell might have just called a draw play and headed to halftime. Instead, the Lions had the end zone in their sights. A couple of Minnesota penalties later, Stafford found Marvin Jones Jr. just across the goal line for a desperately-needed Detroit touchdown. A 20-10 halftime score feels a whole lot different than 20-3 or even 20-6.
♦ Some strange behavior in the Ford Field press box as a group of Vikings’ employees are openly rooting and gesturing with each ebb and flow of the game. It is widely understood that cheering in the press box is off limits. This group from the Land of 10,000 Lakes observes no such rule and I’d be not the least bit surprised if they broke out a six-pack of something domestic during the second half.
♦ The Vikings come out of the locker room guns blazing, trampling the porous Lions’ run defense to the tune of 75 yards on just four plays. It is ultra-rare to see a long NFL scoring drive without a single pass attempt. At times today, it has looked like a Big 10 school against a team from the MAC; just a disparate size and strength mismatch not often seen at the professional level.
♦ Between the injury stoppages and the replay reviews, that third quarter took approximately 137 minutes.
♦ The Vikings and Lions have each scored four times today. The difference: all of Minnesota’s scores have been touchdowns and the Lions have kicked three field goals. As good as Matt Prater is, the more he is on the field, the worse it is for the Leos.
♦ Jubilation and horror on the very same play. Stafford rips a 43-yard touchdown strike to Jones Jr., but gets rolled up after the throw by a tumbling Viking lineman. It does not look pretty, but Stafford has earned his reputation as one of the league’s toughest quarterbacks. If he can walk, he’ll be under center on the next Lions’ possession.
♦ Marvin Jones Jr. has been the best Lion on the field today, looking every bit the #1 wide receiver the organization hoped he would be when they signed him last year.
♦ Not quite a Willis Reed at the Garden moment, but Stafford quietly trudges back on the field with the Lions trailing by four and 8:28 showing on the clock. This is where he generally makes his money; at home in the final quarter coming from behind.
♦ It could wind up being a moot point if the Lions don’t get into scoring position again, but you have to wonder about Caldwell’s choice to kick the extra point on the last touchdown. The Lions trailed by five after the score. Generally in the fourth quarter, it’s critical to slice that deficit to three. The difference between a four and five point game that late in the contest is not usually very meaningful. Yes, Stafford was hobbling off the field and would not have been able to take that next snap, but the game situation might have dictated a roll of the dice with Jake Rudock and the hope that Cooter had something spicy cooked up for the two-pointer.
♦ Whether it was residual effects from that awkward hit or just a batch of ill-timed lack of execution, Stafford and the offense delivered a serious thud on their final two series. While the defense was mostly absent throughout the game, Teryl Austin’s group did hold Minnesota in check for parts of the second half, at one point forcing three consecutive punts. The Lions had the ball twice in the fourth quarter needing just one score to go ahead or tie and failed to record a first down on either occasion. That late-game Stafford magic was nowhere to be found and the Lions drop this critical NFC North battle, 30-23.
♦ The Lions entered Thursday riding a three-game winning streak. The question was just how legitimate that streak was, considering the opponents were the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, the winless Browns, and the underwhelming Bears. The Lions were going to do one of two things today: flex their muscles as a serious contender for the NFC crown or crumble on the national stage, proving that this franchise is still not quite ready for prime time. While they battled diligently in the final quarter and a half, such sporadic efforts are not generally rewarded at the sport’s highest level.
♦ It's not as if there’s a right or wrong during the opening coin toss, but with a full house at Ford Field all geeked up for this Thanksgiving clash, Caldwell might have been better served opting for defense first and letting the fans really dive into the game. Or thinking outside the box, maybe even trying for the first down on 4th-and-1 at the 47 on that opening Lions’ series. Sure, there’s a chance you don’t convert and hand the Vikings great field position, but it just felt like the team needed a jolt in some way to start this game. This is not a group known for strong performances early in contests, and today those first quarter cobwebs were a major factor in the eventual outcome.
♦ Why did the Lions play the Vikings play on Thanksgiving Day back to back years? Isn’t it always a different opponent each season? It felt like deja vu all day, only the Lions had no last-minute heroics like they did a year ago.
♦ A 2-4 home record is not a recipe for success in the NFL. Now the Lions must go on the road in consecutive weeks to tangle with the Ravens (5-5) and Buccaneers (4-6). Neither of those clubs are world-beaters, but still, it’s very difficult to imagine a scenario where the Lions go out and sweep that roadie. This is starting to feel like another 8-8 or 9-7 season and a familiar late-December shrug of the shoulders, wondering if this organization will ever really compete for a Super Bowl berth.