By David Klein, Lions Insider
The Detroit Lions seemed on top of the world on December 11, 2016, defeating the Chicago Bears 20-17 at Ford Field. Their record stood at 9-4, and they held a solid two game lead in the NFC North. Who could have imagined, less than a month later, that that would be the last Lions victory of the season? They completed the 2016-17 campaign by getting thoroughly dismantled by the Seattle Seahawks 26-6 on Saturday night.
Although the game was probably closer than the final score indicated (as things got kind of out of hand late), the Lions once again shot themselves in the foot with some poor run defense, an offense that could not seem to get on the rails, and, of course, some spotty officiating – which has been par for the course for this team for generations to the point of absurdity. In this game, the zebras probably didn’t cost the Lions the game – like they did in the 2015 Wild Card game against the Cowboys when they inexplicably picked up a pass interference flag against Dallas LB Anthony Hitchens.
Or in Week 2 this year, when a whopping 17 flags were thrown against the Lions and they had three (3) negated touchdowns in the game, including a highly-questionable offensive pass interference call on TE Eric Ebron. Or in Week 3 when Nevin Lawson was incorrectly flagged for 66 yards on one play against the Packers. The league later contacted Lawson to let him know he hadn’t actually committed pass interference.
Or on Monday Night Football last year against the Seahawks when S Kam Chancellor batted the ball out of WR Calvin Johnson’s hand at the goal line and out of the back of the end zone (clearly against the rules, if you can read), negating a game-winning TD. But I guess we make those up as we go along sometimes with a league that hires part-time crews that spend the offseason selling used cars. “Tom Brady Tuck Rules” and such.
Or Calvin Johnson not “completing the process” after catching a touchdown in Week 1 2010 at Soldier Field. Or the 46-yard phantom pass interference penalty levied against Leigh Bodden in 2008 in Minneapolis – which essentially cost the Lions their only realistic chance at a victory that entire season. Or picking up an Intentional Grounding in the end zone penalty against Green Bay’s Samkon Gado in 2005, negating a safety – which would have ended Detroit’s Lambeau losing streak years before it finally did.
I could go on for days with this stuff, but I do not want to break the internet and would rather spare you the agony. For those of you who are not fans of this historic franchise formally known as the Portsmouth Spartans, feel free to do your own research in your spare time. It is, to say the least, entertaining. In this game, the highlight-reel one-handed Paul Richardson TD catch undoubtedly included a blatant face-mask penalty. And having Seahawks CB DeShawn Shead grab T.J. Jones while he was running his route and not being called for, at the very least, holding was incomprehensible. The ball flew over the Jones’s head, and the refs said the ball was not catchable when it clearly was — especially if Jones hadn’t been held.
Reportedly, NBC’s Michelle Tafoya interviewed Jim Caldwell after halftime and a member of the officiating crew claimed they “flat out missed” the face-mask, although that was later denied. But to let Thomas Rawls – Thomas Rawls of THE Central Michigan University – to carve your defense up for 161 yards is beyond hideous. He gained 349 yards all SEASON. Detroit has no business complaining about anything in the first place.
There are plenty of built-in excuses, including the injured middle finger on Matthew Stafford’s throwing hand – which was obviously affecting him more than he let on after he banged it up in that Bears game. His numbers just fell off a cliff after the injury, which reportedly will not require surgery. He was still able to set a career-high QBR, however. But even if he was 100%, the outcome of this game probably would not have been much different.
And perhaps announcing that Head Coach Jim Caldwell would be back next year BEFORE the game and not after was a bad idea in hindsight. It probably gave the players the impression that everyone’s job was safe and that they could just mail it in. They were likely saying things like “Hey, we’re just happy to be here.” Or “Guys, their putting the band back together, drinks on me!” Things like that. Who knows? But in reality the Lions are what they always were. A slightly above average team that snuck into the playoffs with a negative points-for/points-against differential and got stuck playing a road game where, at best, they stood a fighting chance and could keep it close until the end.
On the other end of the spectrum, it was business as usual for the Seattle Seahawks, and they take their dog-and-pony show down to Atlanta next week to face the Falcons. They will need to replicate their performance against the Lions – and probably come up with a bit more if they plan on shutting down a healthy, rested Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the rest of their high-powered offense. The Seahawks are their own mess. Capable of beating New England at home and then losing to Arizona in eight days time. It will be a tough match-up for them. And to expect Thomas Rawls to ever come up with another game like he did against Detroit is wishful thinking. A totally new playbook will be in order.
On Saturday, the game was probably decided on three key fourth down plays in the first half. The first, with Detroit driving and at the Seattle 38, decided to go for it on fourth and less than a yard. Instead of running the ball with Zach Zenner, who had been effective up to that point, Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter dialed up a three-TE formation with rookie Dwayne Washington in the backfield and ran a Stafford bootleg. The play was never there. And ultimately little-used tight end Matthew Mulligan ended up with negative yardage after a completion behind the line of scrimmage.
After getting the ball back on downs, Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll faced his own fourth down dilemma for the Seahawks at the Detroit 39. Instead of plugging in a little-used tight end package, he simply gave the ball to Rawls who plowed through the line for four yards and a first down. And then, facing fourth-and-Goal from the two, Russell Wilson found Richardson on the aforementioned face-mask play.
It’s a tale of two cities, I suppose. A team that makes excuses and a team that gets things done. Now all the Lions can really do is clean out their lockers and prepare for the draft. But as Football Outsiders editor Vincent Verhei noted, Seattle QB Russell Wilson has eight postseason wins in his five-year career while the Detroit Lions franchise, in 81 years of existence, has seven. The Lions have now lost nine straight playoff games (a NFL record) and have not won a road playoff game since the Eisenhower administration. And there is nobody that they can draft, whether it be from Miami, Montana, or the Moon that can change those facts.