Thursday, November 24, 2011

Quick Take: No Holiday For Lions

It was not a happy Thanksgiving for the Lions, as their playoff hopes took a big hit with their 27-15 loss to the undefeated Packers. There weren't a lot of people who expected Detroit to win today, but that's no consolation for a team who needs wins badly down the stretch, especially at home.

What's worse is that could have been a very winnable game if the offense would have contributed anything in the first half. Even a couple field goals might have done the trick the way the defense was playing. Sadly for Detroit, it wasn't in the cards, and to make matters worse, a Matt Stafford interception gave the reeling Packers offense a 13-yard field to work with late in the 2nd quarter of a scoreless game, and a questionable interference call gave them a first down that eventually let them take a 7-0 lead.

How does that happen? You shut down the NFL's most lethal offense for 25 minutes, and they finish the first half leading 7-0? That was your ball game, and the ball game, which pushed Detroit back to the rest of the pack at 7-4, rested on the inability of the offense to score much-needed points early in this game.

The Lions played near-perfect in the first half. They stopped Rodgers and Co. routinely, and allowed 86 total yards in an awe inspiring performance. But where was the offense? Surely, playing indoors against a pass defense that has been notorious for being the Packers weak link, the Lions could find ways to capitalize?

No such luck. The Lions actually moved the ball effectively on their first three drives, gaining 26, 45 and 36 yards respectively, but penalties marred each drive, and in the end, the offense didn't seem to sense the urgency of getting points early in this one.

On the Lions fourth drive, Stafford's ill-gotten throw was tipped and picked by Clay Matthews and you could feel the life getting sucked out of the Lions. Somehow, after Jason Hanson missed a 47-yard field goal, the Lions had managed to turn 30 exceptional minutes against the best team in the NFL into a 7-point deficit.

The lesson? The Lions have the tools to be an elite team someday, but until they can grasp the importance of taking an early lead, especially at home, they are going to struggle beating quality teams. The Lions had their chances in the first half. The defense set the table for the offense, but the offense failed to get it done.

Last week the same thing happened, but the Lions were able to come back from 17 points down against Carolina to win. Comebacks against Dallas and Minnesota have been similarly sketched. But how many of these type of wins can a team expect? By my count, the Lions have already gotten more than their share. The Lions need to learn that good teams do not blow 17-point leads, they expand them.

You can look at the injuries (Louis Delmas, Kevin Smith and others were injured), the Suh incident (another story for another post), or the insane chemistry that Rodgers has with his receivers, but the real reason the Lions lost this game is due to their first-half offensive ineptitude. It's been a problem all year, and until Stafford and Co. can get it together early, the Lions will forever be forced to play from behind, no matter how lights-out the defense plays. That's okay against lesser foes sometimes, but it's a recipe for being blown away against teams like the Packers.

The Lions are in danger of getting bounced from the playoff hunt unless they start playing four quarters when they visit New Orleans next Sunday.

This could have been a coming out party for the Lions, and the defense certainly did come out. But until the offense joins the party early in the games, the Lions will always be on the outside looking out at the final buzzer.