|Calvin Johnson needs to play a bigger role for the Lions to get into the playoffs. (US Presswire)|
Were it not for a botched final play, and more questionable decisions from the NFL's replacement officials, Detroit's 44-41 loss to the Tennessee Titans had the potential to be one of the greatest comeback stories in team or league history.
The problem is that Detroit shouldn't have been in the position to need a 14-point comeback in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime. The Lions allowed what on paper is a vastly inferior Titans team to dictate large portions of the game. That can't happen again if Detroit wants to have any chance of returning to the playoffs this season.
RB Mikel Leshoure's 26 carries for 100 yards gave Detroit a truly balanced offensive attack. Leshoure's performance was wasted somewhat by the Lions' inefficiency on third down (3-12), the team's inability to solve Tennessee's two-high safety coverage in the first half, and a miscommunication on the final fourth down. Part of Detroit's offensive difficulty before halftime stemmed from their virtual abandonment of Calvin Johnson. Johnson had just two first half targets, and the team had nine points. By contrast, Johnson was targeted 10 times in the second half, and Detroit put 32 points on the board. Reserve QB Shaun Hill deserves commendation for his performance in relief of Matthew Stafford. Hill entered the game with virtually no warm-up, and impressively engineered two scoring drives in 76 seconds.
Cornerback Chris Houston's yeomen's effort is the only reason the defense didn't receive a failing grade. The Lions' vaunted D-line was a non-factor, failing to register a sack against a patchwork Titans offensive line. Detroit's linebacking corps struggled in pursuit of both Titans QB Jake Locker and his receivers. Apart from Houston's performance, the secondary could be best described as embarrassing. The DB corps allowed three touchdown plays of 60-plus yards, including one where Titans receiver Nate Washington caught a ball off of CB Jacob Lacey's shoulder pads that resulted in a 71-yard score.
Special Teams: D-
Like the defense, the efforts of a single player – kicker Jason Hanson – kept the unit from being described as an unabashed failure. He made all seven of his kicking attempts (four FGs, three PATs), and filled in admirably at punter for the injured Ben Graham. Hanson's efforts were overshadowed, however, by abysmal kickoff and punt coverage. Detroit fell victim to a carbon copy of Tennessee's “Music City Miracle” play on a first half punt, and the unit was manhandled by Titans' blockers while surrendering the longest kick return for a touchdown in Titans franchise history.
Detroit's commitment to re-establishing the run is admirable, and the fact that the Lions trailed by 14 points late in Sunday's game was due more to poor player execution than a substandard game plan. Any positives among the coaching staff's performance are mitigated by a continued lack of discipline – Detroit was penalized 10 times for 91 yards -- and the costly decision to try and draw Tennessee offside on the game's final play without using a huddle or calling time out. Ensuring that your team is on the same page in key situations is a responsibility that lies with the coaches, and Jim Schwartz and his staff failed when it counted the most.