By: Will Burchfield
For the third straight week, the Lions came out slow.
This time it burned them.
In front of a fired-up crowd in a crucial divisional clash with the Vikings on Thursday, the Lions fell behind 13-0 in the first quarter, a deficit that swelled to 20-3 in the second. They made things interesting late, as they’re prone to do, but came up short in a 30-23 loss.
“We just dug a little bit too much of a hole,” said Jim Caldwell. “Just didn’t perform well there at the onset, and anytime you do that against a good team it’s going to be tough. We fought back and gave ourselves a chance, but some of those holes are a little bit too big to dig out of. …We have to do a better job at the beginning, all three phases.”
The Lions were similarly sluggish versus the Browns in Week 10 and the Bears in Week 11. They were able to rally versus two inferior opponents, wiping out a pair of 10-0 deficits, but the first-place Vikings wouldn’t wilt.
Detroit’s inconsistency is starting to wear on arguably its best player: Darius Slay.
Asked why the Lions have struggled to string together four quarters of football, Slay said, “I don’t know, man, that’s a question I be asking myself as an individual. I’m trying to make sure — I’m making sure I’m playing all four quarters, but I ain’t the only person on the team. We all have to feel the same way. I’m an energy guy, so I’m turned up all day, every day. Some guys might be a little different, I don’t know.
“But I know one thing: We gotta get this sh*t right because we can’t be starting slow. This slow stuff is going to catch up with us, man. It’s catching up now in critical moments, and we can’t be having that.”
Thursday’s loss dropped the Lions three games behind the Vikings in the NFC North with five games to go. Their best shot at making the playoffs, at this point, is through the wild card, but even that path looks dicey.
“It was a big opportunity in a division game. We knew we needed this win bad,” said Slay.
As bad as the Lions were in the first quarter, they were worse to start the second half. Down 20-10 coming out of the locker room, they promptly surrendered a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that pushed the Vikings’ lead to 27-10.
“We have to start out fast, man. We came out terrible in the third quarter on the first drive — four plays, all runs. Terrible,” said Slay.
Said Caldwell, “They just took it right down the field. They had 75 yards rushing just within that sequence alone. Up until then, I thought our guys had been doing a pretty decent job of getting it stopped in the first half. But that one was tough. It didn’t knock us out of it, but nevertheless it made things more difficult.”
In their last three games, the Lions have been outscored in the first quarter 33-3. Thursday highlighted the danger of falling behind a good team.
“I think our team has done that often where they’ve still come back and given us a chance to win it. We still had a chance. Obviously, disappointed in the way we started,” said Caldwell.
Is there a key to reversing that trend?
“Nothing other than what I know,” Caldwell said. “It’s just hard work, just keep working at it.