When the Detroit Lions beat the Chicago Bears 21-19 on Nov. 10 it appeared as though the NFC North was theirs for the taking. The other three teams in the division were a shambles at quarterback – Aaron Rodgers went down and started a quarterback carousel that included four different starters in five weeks, Jay Cutler was down, and we all know what's been up with the Vikings QB situation. The Lions had a chance to run away and hide and win the NFC North for the first time in 20 years – a timeframe so long the last time they won the division, it was called the NFC Central and Tampa Bay was a member.
However, since then, the Lions have fallen as flat as any team in the league, losing five of their last six games, and they enter the Metrodome Sunday eliminated from 2013 playoff contention at 7-8. How does a team fall that fast and that hard?
They needed a lot of things to go wrong to accomplish that sort of organizational face-plant. Detroit has done it, and even more disconcerting is that their six-game skid has come against teams that, after Sunday, may all find themselves like the Lions – outside the playoffs looking in. It would be one thing if Detroit went down with the ship against a Murderer's Row of opponents, losing to teams like Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, etc. Instead, their six-game skid has included losses to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on the road and Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the Giants at home.
It has been destruction of self-infliction and the blame can be shared throughout the team. As with most organizational implosions, it starts at the top. On the football field, that would be the quarterback. This was supposed to be the chance for Matthew Stafford to shine. He was the only starting quarterback in mid-November that was the starter in mid-September in the NFC North and he had the opportunity to grab a lot of headlines as an elite thrower.
Instead, he has gone in the other direction. In his first nine games as the Lions built a record of 6-3, Stafford completed 229 of 373 passes (61.4 percent) for 2,839 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In the past six games, he has completed 120 of 228 passes (52.6 percent) for 1,594 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His passer rating is at 83.6. Through his first nine games, his worst passer rating was 83.3 and he had a passer rating of 95.9 or better in five of those. In the last six games, he has had passer ratings under 75.0.
What has made things worse for Stafford is that his performance has gotten increasingly worse over the last three games – all losses. In those three games, he has completed 53 of 101 passes (52.5 percent) for 608 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions.
In the first nine games of the season (eight of which he played), Reggie Bush rushed 133 times for 623 yards – an average of 17 carries for 78 yards a game. In the last six games, he has rushed 76 times for 351 yards and two touchdowns – an average of 13 carries a game for 59 yards. As a receiver, in the eight games he played, Bush caught 34 passes for 343 yards, an average of 4.3 receptions for 43 yards a game. In his last six games, he has caught 15 passes for 130 yards, an average of 2.5 catches for 22 yards a game.
It would seem virtually impossible to shut down Calvin Johnson, but Megatron has been as culpable as anyone in the recent demise of the Lions. In his first nine games, he caught 59 passes for 1,083 yards (an average of seven catches for 120 yards a game) and 11 touchdowns. In the last five games, he has caught 25 passes for 409 yards (an average of five catches for 82 yards a game) and one touchdown and a knee injury could be at least partially to blame. For the purpose of comparison, over the last five games, Greg Jennings has caught 29 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
In their 37-27 loss to the Steelers, a game in which the Lions could have improved to 7-3, Detroit was outscored 17-0 in the second half, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 367 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 119.4.
In a 24-21 loss to the Buccaneers, the Lions defense allowed QB Mike Glennon to complete 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 138.4 – including an 85-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner. The Bucs didn't turn the ball over and the Lions couldn't help themselves – Stafford threw four interceptions and Detroit fumbled three times, losing one of them.
In a 34-20 loss to the Eagles in a field eight inches deep in snow, the Lions had a 14-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, only to allow 28 fourth-quarter points to lose by 14. In the inclement conditions, Philadelphia fumbled just once and recovered it. The Lions fumbled seven times, losing three of them. Philadelphia committed a single false start penalty. Detroit had nine penalties called on them. The Eagles scored touchdowns on the final five possessions other than the last one, in which Nick Foles took a knee to stop the bleeding.
In their 18-16 loss to the Ravens on Monday Night Football, the Lions had six possessions in the second half. Three of them ended with interceptions. The Ravens had six possessions in the second half. Three of them ended with punts. Three of them ended with field goals, including a 61-yard game-winner with 38 seconds to play.
Against the Giants, the Lions had the ball with a 20-13 lead and a chance to end the game or, at a minimum, force the G-Men to burn their remaining timeouts and drive 80 yards or more for a potential game-tying score. Instead, Stafford threw a pick-six that tied the game and the Giants won with a 45-yard field goal in overtime. The Lions dominated just about every potential statistical category except the only one that counted – the numbers on the scoreboard.
The Lions were supposed to be celebrating a division title this weekend. Everything had been laid out for them. No Rodgers for Green Bay for almost two months. No Cutler for Chicago for more than a month. The table was set. Yet, Detroit comes into the Metrodome Sunday a beaten team that will be playing its final game of the season along with the Vikings. It shouldn't have happened, but the Lions have nobody to blame … unless they look in the mirror.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stafford at forefront of Lions' collapse
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