When you’re facing a good quarterback, the one thing you can’t do is make it easy for him. Russell Wilson is good.
And the Detroit Lions made it easy.
That was the story Sunday afternoon in a 28-14 lossthat was more one-sided than the score suggests. Yes, the Lions tried to come back in the fourth quarter — and tripped both times, on a fumble and an interception by Matthew Stafford. But it seemed unlikely they would ever win this game. I mean, with two minutes to go, the Seahawks ran a fake punt FROM THEIR OWN END ZONE — and STILL converted a first down!
You don’t beat that kind of mojo. And you don’t beat Wilson the way Detroit was playing. The Lions barely touched the elusive quarterback. They couldn’t stop his rushers and, as a result, couldn’t stop his passes.
Over and over, when it counted, the Seahawks converted third downs as if they were tossing coins into a tollbooth. The Lions, who are simply bad at stopping the run, would bite on play-action moves by Wilson, then watch him loft the ball to one his sure-handed receivers — usually being guarded, poorly, by Teez Tabor or Nevin Lawson.
And on they would march.
“We couldn’t stay with them at all,” said Lions coach Matt Patricia.
That about sums it up.
By the time it was 28-7 in the fourth quarter, the Lions were in desperate catch-up mode. And several attempts to pull off a miracle fell apart. Stafford has had better days for sure, and his two turnovers solidified the defeat.
But they didn’t cause it.
Wilson did that. The former Super Bowl champion, Rookie of the Year and four-time Pro Bowler racked up numbers on the Lions like a genius kid taking his SAT test. (It’s hard to believe Wilson is actually younger than Stafford, but at 29, he is.) By early in the fourth quarter, the Seattle Slinger had found seven different receivers, had three touchdown passes, 14 of 17 completions, 248 yards, and a perfect quarterback rating.
And the Lions had seven points.
Now, considering Seattle has scored at least 20 points in all but one of its games this year, putting up a single touchdown, or even two, was never going to cut it. You knew coming in that were Detroit to win this game, it would have to win a shootout.
Didn’t come close.
You know that old expression, one step forward, two steps back?
One step back.
Herky-jerky history returns
And too bad, because the Lions had given hope to their long-suffering fans with three wins in their last four games — reaching a .500 record including impressive W’s over New England and Green Bay. But their herky-jerky history returned Sunday, losing the kind of game that a playoff team needs to win. Seattle is good. Not perfect, but good. They’ve been playing great football lately. But you are at home. And this is the kind of team you need to beat at home to keep playoff hopes realistic.
Some Lions players afterwards were critical of the team’s effort. Note I said players, not media.
“We came out flat with no focus,” said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois. “We just weren’t ready to go again. That team came off that bus ready to go….We just came out there and weren’t focused at all.”
That’s not good. And when Ameer Abdullah, who committed the worst turnover of the game, a second-quarter fumble on a kickoff return, was asked if the team had mistakenly gone on cruise control this past week, he answered, “Obviously.”
Obviously? If so, Patricia has a lot to explain. I never understand how flatness happens in a cowboy-crazy, high-testosterone place like the NFL, but it does. The biggest place it showed Sunday was the defensive line. Seattle’s did a great job shutting down Detroit’s rushing attack.
And the Lions’ didn’t do much of anything.
Despite adding Damon Harrison — who had a few nice plays Sunday on less than a week’s practice — the Lions continued to watch running backs plow through them, and, when it mattered, they could not get to the quarterback. And getting to the quarterback is the only way you beat the Seahawks. Ask Chicago and Denver, who both did it by harassing Wilson into sacks and fumbles.
The Lions on Sunday were about as harassing as a butterfly. They chased Wilson, then watched him slip away and make magic. Their secondary constantly blew coverage or mistimed pass defenses, enough that Seattle receivers averaged over 17 yards a catch. Tabor, in his second year, is not inspiring a lot of confidence, and was picked on Sunday by the experienced Wilson, who knows a weak spot when he sees one.
“(Wilson is) very athletic, fast like a running back,” Patricia admitted. “…Obviously, he out-executed us.”
Or, to use a different meaning of the word, executed them.
Not a good time for backwards
Meanwhile, when the defense wasn’t surrendering yards and points, the Lions offense and special teams weren’t racking up any of their own. Abdullah made the first self-inflicted wound, and his fumble in the second quarter led to a Seattle touchdown and put the Lions into catch-up mode.
(It’s worth saying this right here: The Lions’ special teams are bad. When asked about them, Patricia said: “Football is a three-phase game…Right now I not really pleased with any phase.”)
From that fumble on, they seemed overmatched. They moved away from the run, predictably, and could not cash in on the passing game. Whereas Seattle was methodical in its drives (they went 75, 75, and 80 yards on three of them) the Lions were all over the place. Kerryon Johnson, a star of the win over the Dolphins, only got eight carries Sunday. Kenny Golladay, arguably the most explosive guy in the receiving corps, had one catch all day.
If “playmakers make plays,” the Lions didn’t use their playmakers in this game.
One step back.
And it’s not a good time for backwards.
That’s because the next four Sundays are road games against the Vikings and Bears, home against the Panthers and Bears again. Not an easy matchup in the bunch. And the Lions’ division chances will likely be decided by the time those games are played.
“We’ve just gotta dive into our next opponent,” Stafford said.
Diving wouldn’t be my chosen word, but I get what he means. Move on. No sense belaboring this loss. The Lions are not good enough to be excellent every week. At best, they’re going to win more than they lose and scrape a chance for a playoff berth. At worst, more weeks are going to look like this Sunday, cloudy, stormy, depressing — and that was the weather AND the football.
One step back.
Let’s hope it’s not the first of many.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.