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Friday, September 19, 2014
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Published: Monday, 11/25/2013

COMMENTARY

Lions make playoff push a tad harder

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

DETROIT — One quarterback had a passer rating of 138.4. The other’s was 61.6. One was Matthew Stafford; the other Tampa Bay rookie Mike Glennon. Would you care to match the names with the numbers?

Stafford threw four interceptions Sunday. The Detroit Lions also lost a weird fumble and had a punt blocked. For the second straight week, they failed to take advantage of golden opportunities to take a stranglehold on the NFC North, not to mention a playoff berth.

It is unfair, I guess, to say Stafford threw four picks. He was picked off four times. A couple were of the did-you-see-that variety, including the back-breaker at Tampa Bay’s 3 with less than 60 seconds to play that let the Bucs steal and seal a third straight win, 24-21. Flukes or not, they all count.

If you are counting, the Lions are 6-5 now, not 8-3 and pulling away, as they probably should be, from an injury-riddled, sagging division.

Instead, they are struggling like everybody else.

Fear not, said receiver Calvin Johnson, there is no panic in the Lions locker room.

“We have too much going,” he said. “We have some grown-up guys in here. We don’t have time to be worried about this. We have a real quick turnover this week.”

You’ll have to forgive him the Freudian slip. Megatron meant a quick turnaround, as the Lions return to Ford Field for their annual Thanksgiving game on Thursday. But turnover works, considering the team’s state of mind.

Stafford passed to three different receivers for touchdowns. That’s the good news. The bad news for the Lions was that he rarely looked comfortable, threw 20 incompletions, some of them not close, and had one interception returned 48 yards for a Tampa Bay touchdown.

It was suggested to coach Jim Schwartz that Stafford appeared reckless at times.

“I don’t think so,” Schwartz said. “He just wasn’t as sharp as he has been, particularly the one that was the pick-six.”

That came with the Lions leading in the waning seconds of the first half. Stafford threw a little high to tight end Brandon Pettigrew who didn’t give catching the ball much of a thought. Stafford said he threw it early and took the blame. Whatever, Leonard Johnson did give catching it some thought and his runback gave the Bucs a 17-14 halftime lead.

The other bad one came in the third quarter with the Lions back in the lead and, just maybe, about to lower the boom. Stafford never saw strong safety Keith Tandy, who was just hanging around over the middle, while trying to squeeze the ball in to Johnson about five yeards behind Tandy in the end zone.

“That wasn’t the best decision,” Stafford said. “I can live with the ball in and out of [Johnson’s] hands on the last one. But that one down the middle, I have to throw that away.

“I can’t make bad decisions. I had a couple bad ones. I had a couple unlucky bounces, too.”

True. He hit Kris Durham for a nice gain down the left sideline, but a Tampa defender spun him and the ball squirted out of his hand. He landed out of bounds. The ball stayed in. That was the fumble.

Despite all those give-aways, the Lions were still in the game because the Bucs are not exactly an offensive juggernaut and kicker Rian Lindell couldn’t place the ball between the uprights to save his life.

So Detroit had a chance and was driving. A field goal ties, a touchdown wins, and just a minute remains. The Lions were at the Tampa 28 and Stafford targeted Johnson for the 14th time — he caught half of them — and it looked as if the game’s top weapon would go low to haul it in at the 3.

Johnson was hit by one Buc, Kelcie McCray, and the ball popped up to another defender, Johnathan Banks, who was inches away.

“It was just a bang-bang,” Calvin said. “I wanted to turn up, get the endzone, and as soon as I did the dude was right there. He got a good hit on me. I don’t know if he got his hands on the ball or whatever, but it just came out. Even with all the turnovers… we still had a chance to win there at the end, if we just took care of the ball.”

The pressure grows now as the season grows short..

“We have a five-game season,” Schwartz said.

“[This loss] doesn’t do anything other than make the last five games even more urgent. Those are our marching orders.”

He’s right. The Lions still control the ball.

Except for when they throw it away. Or drop it.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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