You know that dream you have when you’re on stage, in front of a huge crowd – in your underwear?
Welcome to Monday night at Ford Field, where the crowd was big, the TV audience bigger, and the home team belly flop was looking like the biggest of all. When you dream of the network cameras coming into your house, you don’t dream they will be filming you falling down the steps.
But that’s how it felt much of the night, as the Lions kept squandering a giant opportunity, their celebrated offense coughing and sputtering, their best player looking mortal, their quarterback looking misaligned, their vaunted defense doing too little to the opposing quarterback.
And that’s how it felt in the final minute, as Justin Tucker, the red-hot kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, who had made 32 in a row, stepped into his 33rd – from 61 yards away. The Lions finally had managed to show some life and grab a slender lead, 16-15. The Ford Field crowd was thunderous. Your head was truly pounding from the noise.
But none of it had the slightest effect on Tucker’s football, which rose like a helium balloon and seemed to flip in the air forever, veering right, dropping, dropping – and just crossing inside the goalpost.
So many horrible moments
The score was 18-16 Ravens with 38 seconds left. That gave the Lions one last shot. A long shot, for sure, but a shot, with all three time-outs.
But remember the part about being in your underwear? Matthew Stafford stepped back, fired, overthrew his receiver, Nate Burleson, and found instead mouthy rookie Matt Elam, who took the interception – and quiet possibly the Lions’ season – the wrong direction.
Lions lose. Wow, that hurts. A meandering game became a frantic finish, and the Lions almost snatched a victory away from their own clomping jaws of defeat. Stafford’s fine touchdown throw to Joseph Fauria with just over two minutes left would have made up for a sloppy and underperforming game.
But holding a one-point lead is hardly easy, not when you’re facing the defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens may be offensively challenged this year, but late in the season, with your postseason on the line, the memory of being a champion surges to the brain.
Joe Flacco – last year’s Super Bowl MVP – made the big throw when he absolutely had to – a 27-yarder to Jacoby Jones on a third-and-long – and from there, it was just getting into field-goal range, which for Tucker was likely the Detroit River.
Chicago and Green Bay ahead
As this game gets dissected, it will look worse and worse. The Lions lost without giving up a touchdown. And, their last scoring drive not withstanding, it was as if they went out of their way to display everything their critics have complained about. Dumb penalties? How about eight for 89 yards? Undisciplined play? How about unnecessary roughness on Louis Delmas on third-and-8 to lead to a field goal?
Stafford’s mechanics? How about two ugly interceptions on – get this – third-and-1 and third-and-2. Remember when those were rushing downs? And that final killer on the last-gasp drive makes this perhaps the least memorable game of his Detroit career.
Calvin Johnson’s periodic mortality? How about two huge drops that could have kept drives alive?
A defense that gets accolades without results? Would one sack all night do it for you?
Who knows what happens now? In many ways, the NFC North gauntlet had been smashed the day before. Chicago came back in the fourth quarter to beat Cleveland on the road, improving its record to 8-6. Meanwhile, Green Bay, still missing Aaron Rodgers, came back from 23 down to beat Dallas and improve to 7-6-1.
Monday was the Lions turn at home. The nation was watching to see whether Detroit could keep pace.
The short answer: no. The short answer: an embarrassing loss. They are playing from behind the rest of the way, hoping Chicago and Green Bay lose. That may seem unfair to the fans. But the simple truth is, if you can’t win a regular-season game when you have to, what makes you think you can do it in the playoffs?