By Michael Ferro
After a tough loss for Detroit at the hands of the New York Giants last week, there was little rest for the Lions. The day after Christmas, they were tasked with facing an NFL-best Dallas Cowboys team in Texas on a major Monday Night Football stage. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers keep knocking on the door and winning their own games, looking to steal the top spot in the NFC North. A lot would come down to the biggest game of the season for Detroit in the Lone Star State.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford utilized many of his available weapons early in the match up, including young running back Zach Zenner, but despite a strong start, it just wasn’t enough. By the end of the game, Detroit hobbled across the finish line with a brutal 42-21 loss.
Throughout the first half, Matthew Stafford and the Lions appeared up to the task offensively, matching the Cowboys for two consecutive series and two touchdown drives. And while Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot was dominant from the start, Lions fans were pleasantly surprised to see Stafford gelling with his own in Zach Zenner, who ran in two touchdowns and controlled the ground game (against the top rush defense in the league, no less).
Stafford eventually felt the pressure of the Dallas defense, which led to a rare interception that turned into seven points for Dallas. From that point, it seemed clear that the Cowboys had discovered the missing element, and the Lions offense spent the rest of the game grasping at straws that never materialized.
It’s a tough task to ask any team to shut down an electric Dallas offense, especially considering they have the best offensive line in the NFL. And while Detroit failed to contain the Cowboys on offense from the start, the Lions offense kept the game even—until they couldn’t anymore. After the second half, the Cowboys offense began to steamroll the Detroit defense and the frustration could be seen all along the Lions’ sideline. The absence of defensive star Darius Slay (who had helped to seal all those comeback wins) was also strongly felt.
By the end of the fourth quarter, the Detroit defense had been badly beaten and humiliated by a Cowboys team that began to stroll into the end zone with ease. If Detroit hopes to have a chance to win the NFC North title, they will need to bring a new defensive game plan against the Green Bay Packers to close out the regular season.
Special Teams: C-
The normally unflappable kicker Matt Prater somehow missed a 47-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter that could have given Detroit a much-needed boost. Though it is extremely rare for Prater to miss his mark, it does seem fitting that it would happen as the rest of his team was crumbling around him.
Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell obviously had his players ready to go at the start of kickoff. Detroit’s offense was primed and held their own throughout the first half, but once things started to go wrong, they went wrong quickly and the Lions failed to ever find that momentum again.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter somehow found a way to utilize running back Zack Zenner early against the best run defense in the league in the Cowboys. For a team that has struggled in the ground game for ages, that stat alone should count for something. Other than that, though, the Detroit offense fell flat in the second half, perhaps due to Stafford’s injured throwing hand or perhaps because the Dallas defense just figured out how to shut down the Lions offense. Either way, it was a sad ending to a high-profile game for Detroit.
Up Next: Detroit closes out the regular season for the NFC North title against the surging Green Bay Packers at home in Ford Field for Sunday Night Football on Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST.