The Lions have just been hit with another agonizing loss in the final minutes of a game. Detroit, now 1-2, had higher hopes for the start of this season, and the second-half rallies are becoming brutal for their chances at any upcoming wins. The Commanders outscored the Lions 27-14 in the second half of Week 2, and in Week 3 the Vikings pulled off a last-second rally to put them over the Lions in their 28-24 loss. The narrative is starting to develop for the season, and the halves are beginning to feel like two different teams are at the helm. First-half Lions used to be something with a negative connotation, often resulting in the team having to mount huge comebacks and overcome near insurmountable leads. Now the Lions come out swinging in the first half, grabbing momentum early and, most of the time, carrying it into halftime. But, as soon as the Lions run back onto the field, something seems to change. The offense begins to look sluggish, and the opposing team, whether it be the Commanders or the Vikings, start to slowly take that momentum right back. The Lions made it work in Week 2, as they still had some offensive progress and big defensive plays to hold off Washington. Week 3 posed a different question though. Where was the offense? Where were the big defensive plays? I mean, the fourth quarter against the Vikings was almost unwatchable. The defense seemed lost at times and the offense was just sluggish. Either way, it led to a Lions loss. A team that seemed poised to go into the bye week at 4-1 could be heading in at 3-2 or worse. The last time the Lions made the playoffs with a losing record before the bye week was in 1995 at 1-3, so it’s pretty unlikely the Lions make a turnaround if they are to lose any of the next two games. But why talk about this? Assessing a pattern is the first step to fixing the problem, and the Lions need to fix it, fast. So where does it start, and where does it end?
Limit Poor Decisions
While the Lions have attempted to get rid of the poor coaching decisions and time management of seasons past, something of a ‘Lions Curse’ still sticks. The Lions were tested with a 4th down decision this past game. They were left with a minute to play, and they call a timeout before choosing what to do. This is the first mistake they made here as it stops the clock for the Vikings who had zero timeouts remaining. Second, they made the decision to send out the field goal unit and attempt a 54-yarder with Austin Seibert. There were multiple issues with this choice. Three field goals had already been missed on this turf and this would have been Seibert’s career-long field goal. Of course, Seibert ended up missing the field goal wide right and the Vikings went on to score a go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds to play. Dan Campbell made a very poor decision choosing to go for the field goal try on 4th. The Field goal would have only put the Lions up by 6 points, making a touchdown the only way to grab the lead. However, all you are doing by choosing this route is giving the Vikings more of a reason to be aggressive against your shabby coverage unit. Furthermore, the Lions have been one of the best offenses in terms of converting on 4th down, and looking back with hindsight Campbell understands that he should have sent the offense out there, “At the end of the day, when you look at all three units, what was the unit that was gonna give you the best chance to win that game, that type of game? It was the offense…that’s the way we should’ve gone.” Campbell sees his mistakes and hopefully, this will prevent further bad decisions to this degree. Goff was quoted as well after the game, saying that he wants to “step in there” and call his shot on 4th down situations. Even if it wasn’t the offense they sent out on the field, the punting unit would have been sufficient. Jack Fox has consistently been one of the best punters in the NFL and choosing to pin the Vikings deep could have lined to defense up with an easy stand. Either choice presents the Lions with a greatly improved chance of winning and they both stand out as correct, while the field goal just seems odd now and it seemed wrong during the game. The Lions can’t just make the correct decisions, because what if their opponents mount that special comeback against Detroit?
Preventing The Rally
The Lions must prevent the rallies. If the team can stop the rallying opponents and capitalize on mistakes and opportunities, then their chances of winning skyrocket. On one of the Commanders’ last offensive drives, Carson Wentz threw a bad pick to Will Harris, giving the Lions the key momentum they needed to seal the game. They punted on the ensuing drive. Then the Commanders scored a touchdown. On three. Straight. Drives. The momentum never really shifted the Lions’ way. In fact, that interception seemed to just revitalize an offense that was laying dormant for the better part of the game. If the Lions can focus on keeping the fire of a big turnover or a score and carry it through drives on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, then perhaps they shut down the opponents altogether. Truly this isn’t just a matter of keeping the momentum, but just being a more rounded team through 4 quarters of play. If they can manage to stay solid throughout the entire 60 minutes, then who knows what these scores may have been? The same holds true for the Vikings game. The Lions had gone 11 straight quarters with a touchdown to start the season, but that ended in the 4th quarter of the Vikings game. Minnesota outscored them 14-0 in the 4th, outplaying Detroit on both sides of the ball. The Lions even forced a punt and a turnover on downs at the beginning of the 4th quarter, yet could never complete a drive with points. Goff knew that the “game should have been over long before [the Vikings] were able to get back in it” and that the Lions “let them back in it” through their lack of keeping their play solid in all 4 quarters. If Detroit can keep the defense steady and the offense chugging, then they will quite obviously be able to capture more wins against their future opponents.
All in all, the Lions have been lacking heavily when it comes to keeping leads and securing wins, but that doesn’t spell the end of the season by any means. We’ve got 14 games to go, Lions fans, and if they can right the ship of their second-half woes, it could be a season to remember in the Dan Campbell era.