DETROIT — When you think you've seen it all from the Detroit Lions, you at the very least see it again and, quite possibly, see them mangle a game in ways not previously imagined.
Sunday, the Lions lost their kicker and then their quarterback — again — and then their minds, blowing a late 10-point lead and then a 23-20 decision in overtime to the New York Jets.
To the Jets, it's a reality TV show.
To the Lions, it's real life.
Detroit posted two wins in 37 games. And then it notched two wins in three games, and this would have been three wins out of four and, just maybe, fans here and around the NFL may have started believing.
Instead, 57,799 at Ford Field could only watch in disbelief and, just maybe, a little sadness.
“This is the worst loss ever, I think, in my 10 years,” said center Dominic Raiola, and that's saying a lot because he has absorbed 117 losses of all shapes and sizes, of all tastes and smells.
The Lions got a game-tying 21-yard field goal from Jason Hanson midway through the third quarter, but Hanson was roughed up and injured by New York's Trevor Pryce. Coach Jim Schwartz wisely — and you may not read that name coupled with that word again here today — took the three points off the board, instead accepting the ball at the Jets' 1 and getting a touchdown run from quarterback Matthew Stafford.
But Hanson was not available to kick the extra point. Punter Nick Harris is one of his backups, but he is also the holder, and there is no backup holder. So rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who once was a soccer player before growing into a 6-foot-4, 307-pounder, and who has kicked some in practices, came on to attempt a soccer-style extra point, which glanced wide off the upright.
Why make such a big deal over a missed extra point?
Because when the Jets, who would eventually trail by 10 points, scored a touchdown with 2:46 remaining, they did not need to attempt a two-point conversion to pull within field goal range. The PAT kick made it 20-17.
And they got that field goal to tie it on the last play of regulation in large part because Stafford suffered another shoulder injury, and his backup on this day, Drew Stanton, would be part of one of the all-time boneheaded calls, even by Lions standards.
Stanton was No. 2 because Shaun Hill has injury issues of his own. Schwartz said he didn't consider going to Hill because “he couldn't have done anything but hand it off,” which, of course, is all Stanton should have done.
With the game at the 2:00 warning and the Jets out of timeouts, the Lions faced a third-and-six at their own 38. Detroit called a play that gave Stanton the option of throwing a screen pass — which the Jets surely knew is about the extent of his arsenal — or running for whatever he could get and then hitting the turf.
He should never have been given the passing option because that's what he tried and when it fell incomplete, the clock stopped at 1:54. Had a running play, even one that failed to get a first down, ended at 1:54, the 40-second play clock would have allowed the Lions to bleed the game clock to around 1:14 before punting.
“That's my fault,” Schwartz said. “There's risk and reward. If we get the first down, it's over. But looking back, we should not have given [Stanton] the option. I didn't make myself clear enough that we shouldn't worry about taking the lost yardage play right there because the clock obviously was important.”
So, the Jets had the time. And the Lions weren't finished with the gifts. A terribly obvious late hit out of bounds by 11-year-veteran linebacker Julian Peterson gave the Jets a first down at the Detroit 28 with 40 seconds left, and, well, you know what happened by now. It's the Lions, after all.
“All we needed was one first down,” Raiola said quietly. “Heck, not even that. Just use the whole set of downs. We left 40 seconds up there. We're a good team. This isn't the same old Lions. I don't think that's fair. We'll get over this. But it's hard to swallow.”
So is another shoulder injury to Stafford, who had thrown for two touchdowns and run for another, on a routine tackle from behind with just over 5:00 to play. He missed the last four games — all losses — a year ago as a rookie because of a shoulder separation and then suffered a similar injury in this season's opener and missed five games.
The Lions will cross their collective fingers that it's not as bad this time. With Stafford, Detroit is a decent team. Without him …
Well, as Jets coach Rex Ryan said in summing this one up, “That's what good teams do, find a way to win.”
And the Lions, without Stafford at the end, did what bad teams do. They found ways to lose.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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