This past Sunday, Lions fans got the experience that they know all too well: heartbreak at the hands of their favorite NFL team. The latest dose of existential pain for the second oldest franchise without a Super Bowl came in a 28-24 loss against the Vikings, in which they blew multiple 10 point leads with some baffling coaching decisions in the fourth quarter.
Although all teams deal with losses similar to the one the Lions had over the weekend, no NFL team has lost as often and as embarrassingly as Detroit. Here are the 10 worst losses that the Lions suffered since the turn of the millennium.
10: MORNHINWEG DEFERS IN OT (WEEK 12, 2002)
This game would be a lot higher, but it was an inconsequential game between 2 teams that were a combined 11 games under .500. It still cracks the list because it included one of the most absurd coaching decisions of all time. The Lions were leading by 10 points with the ball in the 4th quarter(Sound familiar?), but with just under 3 minutes remaining in the game the bears swung the game in their favor at a feverish pace. After scoring a touchdown with 2 and a half minutes remaining, the Bears forced a 3 and out and sent the game to overtime with a 22 yard field goal by Paul Edinger. The overtime rules were pure sudden death at this time, meaning that a field goal wins the entire game. The Lions won the fateful coin toss, which means all they needed was a couple first downs and a made field goal to escape Chicago with a win. At least, if they elected to start overtime with the ball. Head coach Marty Mornhinweg decided he would rather have a 17 mile per hour wind at his back than the ball. Of course, this strategy did not work. Paul Edinger drilled a 52 yard field goal to win the game, and the Lions never touched the ball in overtime despite winning the coin toss.
9: THE JUSTIN TUCKER GAME (WEEK 3, 2021)
In the third game of the Dan Campbell era, the Lions were well on their way to their first game of the season. The Lions, after keeping the game within 10 points for the majority of the second half, took the lead late thanks to an Amani Oruwariye interception that set up a field goal drive. The Lions sacked Lamar Jackson twice, and the Ravens faced a 4th and 19 with 0 timeouts and 26 seconds on the clock. It felt like the next play was just a formality. But then Jackson found Sammy Watkins for a 36 yard gain. Still, they needed to spike the ball in their own territory, and the play clock had run out when they snapped it. There was no delay of game flag, but after an incomplete pass, Baltimore had one more desperation play to try and steal the game. They opted against the Hail Mary and trotted out Justin Tucker for the NFL record 66 yard field goal attempt. Even though he is the most accurate kicker in the leagues history, it seemed that it would be out of his range. For a split second, it appeared that he did not quite have the leg. He hit the crossbar, and from the broadcast angle, it looked like it was going to fall short. It did not. fans at Ford Field were stunned as they just allowed a record setting field goal as time expired.
8: ORLOVSKY RUNS OUT OF THE ENDZONE (WEEK 6, 2008)
This game was absolutely miserable on so many levels. We all remember the 2008 Detroit Lions as the first team to ever go 0-16, and the most notable play from that season came in the first quarter of this game. Lions quarterback and future ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back of his own endzone, giving the Vikings a free 2 points that would end up being the difference in the game. This would be the closest this iteration of the Lions would come to a win that year, but what people seem to forget about this game is the controversial referee decisions that aided Minnesota to a victory. Not only did the Vikings get a questionable fumble upheld, but on their final drive, they got a favorable pass interference call to set up the game winning field goal with a handful of seconds remaining. Had Detroit won this game, they would not get nearly as much attention as they do now.
7: HANDS TO THE FACE (WEEK 6, 2019)
In a rare Detroit Lions prime time appearance, a national audience got to witness something Detroit fans are used to: controversial calls benefiting the Lions opponent. The divisional matchup started with Detroit jutting out to a 13-0 lead, where they looked to be in complete control. But the more talented Packers cut the lead down to 3 by halftime. The third quarter had 4 field goals(3 by Matt Prater, 1 by Mason Crosby) as the only source of scoring, and another 3 points early in the 4th quarter saw the Lions lead balloon to 22-13. On the ensuing drive, Aaron Rodgers was sacked on third down, leading to what should have been a 4th and 22 punt by Green Bay. But a phantom hands to the face call on Trey Flowers gifted the Packers another chance, to which they obliged by scoring a touchdown 3 plays later. After a Detroit punt, Aaron Rodgers drove his team down the field to put them in Mason Crosby’s range. No matter what, the Packers would have kicked the go ahead field goal from inside 30 yards. However, there was still 2 minutes remaining in the game, enough time for Matthew Stafford to lead a game winning drive. But after an incomplete pass on third down, Trey Flowers was called for yet another hand to the face, this one even more egregious than the other one. This allowed Green Bay to run down the clock to under 10 seconds, make Detroit burn their timeouts, and kick the field goal that would bury the game.
6: PUNCH OF DEATH (WEEK 4, 2015)
Although fans were not happy that the Lions will not have a primetime game in 2022, maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Similar to number 8 on this list, the Detroit Lions had their chances at a win hindered by the officials on Monday night football. This game was a defensive slugfest. The Lions did not have an offensive touchdown against the legion of boom in this game. With 2 minutes remaining, down by a field goal, they were driving down the field in search of the end zone. However, Kam Chancellor made a fantastic play on Calvin Johnson at the 1 yard line to force a fumble that went out of the back of the endzone for a Seattle touchback. But replay showed that linebacker K.J wright deliberately punched the ball out of the back of the endzone, which is illegal and would have meant Detroit retained possession. While it wasn’t guaranteed the Lions would score a touchdown, they most likely would’ve tied the game. This is not the last time the Seahawks will show up on this list.
5: LIONS MAKE IMPOSSIBLE COMEBACK ONLY TO LOSE (WEEK 3, 2012)
The Detroit Lions were on the losing side of one of the greatest games of all time, because of course they were. The Lions and Titans combined for 46 points in the fourth quarter, nearly doubling their combined total from the previous three periods. Detroit had a chance to tie the game at 34 with 90 seconds remaining, but Tennessee took a Brandon Pettigrew fumble 72 yards to the house to ice the game. Or so viewers thought. Detroit, led by backup QB Shaun Hill, scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 7, but they burned all their timeouts and there was only 18 seconds on the clock when they attempted the onside kick. All the Titans had to do was recover the Jason Hanson onside kick and the game would be over. They not only failed to recover, but they let Detroit score a touchdown in a matter of 18 seconds to tie the game. In overtime, however, things didn’t shake out as well for the Lions. They held the Titans to a field goal, but turned the ball over on downs in the red zone to end the game. This is the second highest regular season game on the list, simply because the Lions were so close to stealing a game out of thin air. Unfortunately, they couldn’t seal the deal.
4: LIONS TAMED IN THE SUPERDOME (WILD CARD, 2011)
This is the least painful playoff loss of the century for the Detroit Lions. The game was unspectacular, but the heartbreak is amplified when it’s the teams first playoff appearance since 1999. The Lions kept up until the fourth quarter, but yet it still felt out of reach. The more frustrating part of this loss was the feeling of a season wasted. The 2011 version of the Detroit Lions absolutely should’ve won more than 10 games. Both Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford were playing some of their best football, and the Lions won their first 5 games of the season. The wheels didn’t completely fall off, they still made the playoffs, but it is an unceremonious way for a talented team to fade into obscurity.
3: MISSED FACE MASK VS SEAHAWKS (WILD CARD, 2016)
This game, although poorly officiated, most likely would’ve been won by the Seahawks regardless of what calls the officials made. That didn’t make watching this game any less infuriating for Lions fans. Once again in a tough road environment in the wild card game, the 2016 Lions were not nearly as good as the team 5 years previous. Only one year removed from entry number 6 on this list, the officials yet again were not on Detroit’s side in this 26-6 loss. The highlight of the game was Paul Richardson making an unbelievable 1 handed catch while Tavon Wilson was all over him. Once again, though, this fantastic play becomes negated after seeing the replay. Richardson performed the textbook definition of a face mask against Wilson, yet the only flag thrown was for defensive pass interference. Even with this botched call and the 4 personal fouls called against Detroit; the Seahawks, led by running back Thomas Rawls, absolutely dominated the game through and through. The refereeing only added salt to the wound gashed by Seattle’s rushing attack.
2: THE BEST HAIL MARY OF ALL TIME (WEEK 10, 2015)
The second most painful Lions loss in the 21st came in a meaningless regular season. How? It’s pretty simple. The Detroit Lions led 20-0 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. But as we have seen time and time again in this article, no lead is safe. The Packers stormed back to get the game within 2 points, but it seemed the comeback attempt would fall short after a failed lateral play from their own 21 as time expired. Unfortunately, there was a yellow handkerchief on the field, and the call was a face mask against defensive tackle Devin Taylor. The penalty gave one untimed down to Green Bay from the 36 yard line, which was in range for a Hail Mary attempt. Regardless, the chances were still extremely slim. Aaron Rodgers needed to heave the football 60 yards downfield, and have it be caught by one of his teammates in the endzone. Not to mention the fact that the entire Lions secondary was also in the Honolulu blue painted grass. What happened next was one of the most iconic plays in the league’s history. Aaron Rodgers threw a perfect pass that was in the air longer than most punts, and fellow Cal alumni Richard Rodgers high pointed the ball for the win. Ford Field looked on in horror as the Green Bay Packers celebrated all over the field. Remember that meaningless penalty that happened before the Hail Mary? Not only did it extend the game, but it also wasn’t a face mask. Devin Taylor clearly grabbed the shoulder pad of Rodgers and never came close to the face mask. The game should have been over, the Miracle in Motown should not have happened. That does not excuse the blown 20 point lead, or letting Richard Rodgers catch the ball in the mosh pit of players. Multiple layers of pain for Detroit fans. At least this one didn’t matter…
1: COWBOYS COMEBACK WITH HELP OF REFS (WILD CARD, 2014)
This game mattered. It mattered a lot. While the 2011 playoff squad was formidable, this Lions team legitimately could have won a super bowl. Not only did it feature prime Stafford and Calvin Johnson, their defense- led by all pro DT Ndamukong Suh, was much improved from their previous playoff appearance. This game had its all-blown leads, bad calls, and season ending heartbreak. Facing the Tony Romo lead Cowboys in Dallas, the Lions scored 2 touchdowns in the first quarter, getting out to a 14-0 lead that would shockingly not last. With 8 minutes remaining in the game, leading, 20-17, Matthew Stafford took a deep shot to Brandon Pettigrew. It was incomplete, but a flag quickly came out for defensive pass interference on Cowboys defensive back Anthony Hitchens. But the flag was picked up despite the initial call being correct, leading to a Lions punt. Once more, this decision did not single-handedly win the game for the Cowboys. Detroit allowed a touchdown on the ensuing drive and then turned the ball over to lose the game. But it undoubtedly affected the game’s outcome. This game ranks number one on this list- mostly due to how good the Lions team was, but also due to the poor officiating decision that left a poor taste in fans’ mouths.