By Ashley Scoby
Shooting themselves in the feet would have been too easy. The Lions, in their 24-12 loss to Denver in primetime Sunday, took a rusty butter knife to their extremities and sawed away to make the end result as ugly and as painful as possible.
“Well, it’s everybody,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “It’s a team game, so there are a lot of things that factor into it.”
And he was right: Detroit pulled from all corners of the game during a hapless stumble to an 0-3 start Sunday.
After Joique Bell dove one yard into the end zone with 63 seconds remaining in the first half, the Lions’ chance to tie the Broncos at 7-all was nullified after Matt Prater’s extra point was blocked. Eric Ebron’s tackle saved Detroit the embarrassment of having it returned to the opposite end zone.
One embarrassment avoided, another created: Peyton Manning drove Denver downfield with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter, and went deep to Demaryius Thomas down the right sideline to cap a worst-case scenario finish to the half for Detroit. Thomas came down with Manning’s pass after badly beating cornerback Darius Slay, then waltzed backwards into the end zone for the 14-6 halftime lead.
Quandre Diggs recovered a Thomas fumble and returned it for a touchdown early in the third quarter, but since the officials originally called Thomas down and didn’t let the touchdown develop, the Lions lost the score even when the call was reversed to a fumble.
“It is what it is,” Caldwell said of the officials’ sequence of events. “We got the ball. We had the opportunity to score and I’m not going to make a big deal out of those kinds of things. That’s a loser’s approach to it.”
Rookie Ameer Abdullah still came down with a touchdown reception on the drive to make it 14-12 and put a bit of life into the Ford Field crowd. But in a burst of déjà vu from earlier in the season, the Lions handed the ball off to Bell on the two-point conversion attempt (Stafford said he checked into the play). He was stuffed well before the goal line, and Denver held onto its lead.
On the next drive, a third-down gain by Golden Tate was nullified by an Ebron pass interference penalty. And on third-and-11, Stafford recorded a reception – yes, reception – after snagging his own tipped pass. That drive and the next ended in punts. The one after that ended with a Stafford turnover after the officials declared he wasn’t moving his arm forward enough for his fumble to be considered an incomplete pass.
Denver almost came up empty-handed off that turnover, after its drive stalled and kicker Brandon McManus missed a 53-yard field goal. His attempt got moved up five yards, though, after Detroit got busted with illegal formation. He didn’t miss a second time.
Staring at a 17-12 deficit and a 3rd-and-12 situation at the Broncos’ 48-yard-line late in the fourth quarter, Stafford turned the ball over for the third time that night, when David Bruton Jr. tipped the pass to himself and came down with the pick. It was Stafford’s second interception.
“It’s third-and-extra-long,” Stafford said. “We’ve got to make a play to go down, try and score and win the game. Another great play, the guy tipped it to himself about four times. I wish I could have thrown it six inches higher, maybe we have a catch for a first down.”
Foot, gun, shoot: The Lions knew the drill Sunday. With enough time still on the clock to erase a five-point deficit, Detroit instead let the Broncos inflate it. Slay got beat on another jump ball, this time from Manning to Emmanuel Sanders deep down the right side, which set up a toss to Owen Daniels in the end zone that set the final score of 24-12.
The Lions finished with nine penalties, totaling 75 yards, which was almost triple the amount they gained on the ground. On 19 carries, Detroit finished with a putrid 28 rushing yards and a 1.5-yards-per-carry average. Add the three turnovers into the mix, and there’s little wonder why many at Ford Field booed the team.
“That’s why we’re 0-3. We’re hurting ourselves,” said Ebron, who finished with four receptions for 61 yards. “No one in this league can match us or play against us unless we hurt ourselves and we’ve been doing that for three straight weeks.”