There are mistakes to point at after a loss, after every loss, actually, but then you know that. And mistakes surely contributed to the Detroit Lions’ most dispiriting loss Sunday afternoon to the Indianapolis Colts.
But mistakes weren’t why the Lions lost their fourth game of the season, falling below .500 again, teasing their fans and then ripping out their hearts, at least the fans who stayed with them the first seven weeks, hoping, praying — yet again — that this time it would be different.
It wasn’t. It isn’t. It may never be.
Oh well, at least you had hope for a week.
As for why the Lions lost?
As I said, forget the mistakes for a moment. Forget the pick-six, if you can.
Forget, too, the airmailed passes and the unsportsmanlike penalties and the pass interference and the cornerbacks who don’t turn around when the ball is thrown their way.
“We can’t have those situations,” Matt Patricia said of the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on defensive tackle, Danny Shelton, who yanked Philip Rivers to the ground a few seconds after officials blew the whistle to signal the end of the play. “We’ve got ‘em stopped. We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to play smarter.”
Of course they do. They’ve got to play more consistently, too. Patricia echoed that as well, along with offering his usual boilerplate about coaching better.
He does. But forget that and the mistakes and focus on this, if you’re not too dispirited and disgusted and snookered: The Lions lost to the Colts because they were overpowered at the point of attack, on both sides of the ball.
Sometimes it’s just not complicated.
They lost because their offensive line couldn’t protect Matthew Stafford or open any holes for the running backs.
And they lost because their defensive line got pushed back too often. Like early in the fourth quarter, when the Lions were, amazingly enough, still in the game, down 14 points and having just scored a touchdown.
Get a stop and the Lions had a chance. An outside one, yes, but a chance.
Instead, the Colts, and Rivers, their 60-year-old quarterback, took over at the Lions’ 27-yard-line with 12:15 left and road-grated their way to the end zone.
Slowly. Inevitably. Forcefully.
The Colts won, 41-21. Somehow it was worse than that.
And if you’re looking for an encapsulation of the Patricia era, here it was. The defensive guru watching from the sidelines helplessly. His team getting mashed up front, up the middle, by a middling offensive team that had lost to Jacksonville and Cleveland.
OK, fine, the Browns are respectable this season. And maybe the Colts, now 5-2, will make the playoffs. Their defense is serious.
As for the Lions?
They are going nowhere.
What else is there to say?
That you feel foolish for getting your hopes up? Don’t. Walk-off wins are rare, and should bring joy, even when they come against one-win teams, such as last week against Atlanta.
Colts tight end Jack Doyle falls into the end zone for a 7-yard reception for a touchdown during the first half against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, at Ford Field.
Besides, how often do you really get to cheer for this team? Take it when and where you can get it.
Because after watching Sunday’s game, you won’t get many more chances. The schedule gets tough in December. Heck, it suddenly gets tough next week in Minnesota, where the once-struggling Vikings will be coming off a win over the Packers.
So, yeah, maybe last week in Atlanta was the highlight. And another season will pass without the playoffs. And the coaching staff has shown little to justify a return next year if there isn’t a miracle turnaround the last nine games of the season.
Which means the cycle of mediocrity and despair continue, and you don’t know where to turn. The good news is the Lions probably don’t, either.
You figure that at some point this franchise will stumble into success. The NFL almost demands it in structure, in its quest for parity. Yet, here the Lions are, decades from real relevance.
If it makes you feel any better, the Lions did have a chance in the fourth quarter, down six points, before a sack-fumble stopped their momentum. Before a pass interference penalty set up a Colts touchdown. Before Stafford threw another pick-six.
“You guys want to put it on somebody, put it on me,” said Stafford, who also fumbled when he was sacked. “I can’t turn the ball over twice.”
It’s easy to focus on his mistakes, too, of course, and Stafford hasn’t been as sharp this season as in the past. In fairness, he had no time to throw Sunday.
Still, these Lions lose under the leadership team of Patricia and Bob Quinn because they’ve never been quite good enough up front. On either side of the ball. At least not with any consistency.
Which is why they tend to lose when they’re playing a decent-to-good team. They struggle to compete up front.
“Ain’t no excuses,” said linebacker Reggie Ragland, who had a clear view of the mauling in front of him. “Ain’t going to be no excuses on my end. We’ve got to do a better job. We are a good defense, we’re a good team. Got to be consistent, and we’re not consistent right now.”
Lack of consistency was the difference again Sunday. Nowhere was that more true than up front. The Lions simply got outmuscled when it counted.
©2020 Detroit Free Press