Turning Point: Mixed Signals

Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg didn't know what signal to send his team on three different fourth-down calls, so he mixed his signals and didn't show confidence when it counted.

Consistency is the hallmark of all good coaches. Inconsistency is the hallmark of poor coaches. Detroit coach Marty Mornhinweg showed Sunday how a coach's inconsistency can kill a team and create the turning point of a game.

The fourth-down plays typified what is wrong with the Lions — one worked, one didn't and one cost them the game. And none of them made sense.

The first came with 10 minutes remaining in the first half. With the ball on the Vikings 46, the Lions faced fourth-and-1. After seeing a 14-0 lead sliced to 14-10, Mornhinweg opted to run a sweep with James Stewart, a sluggish runner with little to no lateral speed. Kenny Mixon chased down the play and stuffed it for a loss. The play brought the Metrodome crowd to a fever pitch and could have completely changed the game around.

The second play came at midfield with 8 minutes to play in the third quarter. Again faced with fourth-and-1, Mornhinweg opted to go for a first down with a 21-17 lead instead of punting and trying to pin the Vikings deep. Many thought it was the incorrect call, because if the ensuing pass failed the Vikings would be 50 yards away from a potential go-ahead score instead of 90 yards. The play worked, as Joey Harrington connected with Larry Foster on a 17-yard pass that set up a field goal. But that call gave the indication that the Lions had the confidence to run over the Vikings when needed.

Then came the last play that showed Mornhinweg's inconsistency. Leading 24-17 with 9 minutes to play, Detroit had a fourth-and-1 from the Vikings 40 — closer to the end zone than either of the other two chances he had taken. A first-down conversion would kill at least three minutes — if not more — off the clock and potentially set up a field goal that would give the Lions a 10-point lead even if the offense sputtered. Instead Mornhinweg opted to punt.

By the time the Lions offense was back on the field, the game was tied with 5:25 to play and the Lions were pinned inside their own 20. The next possession after that, his team was behind by seven points and eventually lost.

If it was possible, Mornhinweg likely made the wrong decision on each of his fourth-down plays — all critical to the outcome of the game — and that hot-and-cold inconsistency created the turning point of the game.

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