The Detroit Lions lost 14-13 to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, a result that guaranteed both a losing season and official elimination from the playoffs. It’s never a good thing for a team to have its season effectively ended by a one-point loss, and it is an even worse thing to have that loss come against the damn Bills, a team so bad that one of their players retired in the middle of a game earlier this year. What stings even worse, for the Lions and their fans at least, is that Detroit absolutely should have won this game.
Save for the final score, the usual trappings of an ass team are hard to detect in the Lions’ box score. Detroit gained 313 total yards, didn’t commit a single turnover, converted 38 percent of their third downs, completed 22 of 29 passes, and ran the ball for four yards per carry. Those aren’t great numbers by any means, but not turning the ball over and putting together a few competent drives is generally all it takes to beat a team like the Bills.
It wasn’t enough, though, and that alone puts this loss in much more painful territory than, say, the one the Vikings suffered at Buffalo’s hands early in the year. When everything goes to hell and you get blown out, at least you can throw your hands up and chalk the disaster up to some bullshit. “Well,” you might say in a situation like this, before resolving to just forget the whole thing and get on with the season, “that was some bullshit.” But a loss like the one Detroit experienced offers no escape routes, and can’t be dismissed so easily. Instead it replays itself, over and over, as a series of seemingly countless moments that, if they had just gone a little bit differently, could have resulted in a win. Here’s one of those moments:
That’s a duffed extra point attempt turning into an even more spectacularly duffed two-point conversion attempt, and it was how the Lions punctuated their first scoring drive of the game. That drive was a tidy nine-play, 75-yard jaunt that came early in the second quarter and seemed to signal that they were in control of the game. They were not, and the Bills wasted no time taking advantage of this miscue, responding with a 77-yard touchdown drive of their own. They were helped along by Lions safety Mike Ford, who got burned by Robert Foster and subsequently straight up tackled him at the four-yard line instead of allowing him to catch a long touchdown pass.
The Lions came right back and scored again, though, to take a 13-7 lead. Stafford had a nice connection going with Kenny Golladay, who legitimately rules and spent the first half Mossing the Bills’ secondary. Unfortunately for them, the Lions would go the rest of the game without doing anything productive.
That stretch of the game added up to this six punts and a missed field goal. That’s the shape of the crap pile that the Lions spent the rest of the game building on the field. Drive after drive featured sparks of promise, only to peter out, go nowhere, and get slapped onto the growing poop tower. If there was one prevailing issue for the Lions throughout this long, stinky stretch of the game, it was their inability to keep defenders away from Stafford. The pass protection was so bad that Stafford had to spend most of the day throwing screen passes or short completions to covered receivers. Guys were in his face all day:
Please stick around to see the replay angle of the above play, which will you show you a Lions offensive lineman just, like, rolling himself into the ground and completely whiffing on what should have been a relatively easy block against Shaq Lawson. Here is another play on which the blocking was so bad that Stafford could barely hand the ball off before getting smushed:
These plays don’t stick out as badly after a one-point loss as a botched extra point does, but they do tell the story of how the Lions went the entire second half without being able to scratch out a single scoring drive. When Stafford actually had time to throw he tended to find Golladay for long gains, which makes sense given that he’s a decent quarterback and Golladay is a good receiver. The problem was that he rarely had any time at all.
But let’s get back to the big, throbbing fuck-ups that stick out worse than Matt Patricia in most public spaces. The Lions went down 14-13 after Foster smoked Ford again on a 42-yard touchdown reception, which left the Lions chasing the game with just over 10 minutes left to play. On the next drive they managed to move the ball 45 yards down the field and get into field-goal range. They were all set up to take the lead and spend the next six minutes executing the relatively easy task of not getting beaten by Josh Allen. Then they could squeak out a win and defer the whole Getting Eliminated From Playoff Contention experience for another week. Not so fast!
Things weren’t over for Detroit after that missed field goal, though. After the two teams traded punts, the Bills had the ball on their own 25-yard line with 2:50 to play. The Lions still had two timeouts, so getting the ball back for one last drive shouldn’t have been a huge problem. The Bills were backed into a third-and-7 at the two-minute warning, and the Lions were one competent defensive play away from getting the ball back into Stafford’s hands. This, however, is not a competent defensive play:
That penalty handed the Bills a third-and-2. They ran the ball on third down for one yard, then used a QB sneak to get the first down on the next play. The Lions were out of timeouts by that point, and could do nothing but watch Allen kneel the ball a few times and end the game.
So that’s it for the 2018 Detroit Lions. They are 5-9 and in last place in the NFC North, and their most newsworthy moments of the season were a pointless practice in the snow and Matt Patricia being a weird dick to a reporter. Jim Caldwell got fired because the organization got bored with his unchanging face and unchanging 9-7 records. What they have now is a team that’s just as boring and slightly worse.