Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush (21) is brought down by Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson (20) in the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — When the Detroit Lions have run for over 100 yards this season, they’ve won.
It’s just hard to keep the ball on the ground when you’re trying to rally from a double-digit deficit in the second half.
“I think anytime you’re trying to fight yourself back into the game, you’re going to throw the ball a little bit more than you’re going to run it,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “There were still some opportunities in there that we either missed or missed one guy. That kind of stuff can cog down a running game.”
Detroit was held to 77 yards on 25 carries Sunday in a 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Stafford threw for 357 yards, helping the Lions rally from an 11-point deficit in the second half, but the Lions lost on a field goal on the final play.
Detroit signed Reggie Bush in the offseason, hoping he could provide some offensive balance. He’s been a big-play threat, whether carrying the ball or catching passes out of the backfield, but he managed only 50 yards on 20 carries against the Bengals.
“This was a good front — strong linebackers, good defensive line, but we’ve had some of those before that we’ve won those matchups,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “There’s one thing of having runs and being able to sort of grind things out, but we need to get some first downs in there. We need to create some explosive plays and we’re at our best when we’re doing that.”
The Lions are 3-0 when they’ve run for at least 100 yards, and 1-3 when they haven’t, although it’s sometimes hard to determine a cause-and-effect relationship with a stat like that. A team that’s leading late in a game may be more likely to have a high rushing total as it tries to run out the clock — even if running the ball isn’t necessarily what won the game.
The opposite is true when a team is behind.
“Any offense, whenever you get down — I don’t want to say you go into desperate, you don’t go into that mode — but you have to establish the passing game,” running back Joique Bell said. “You want to get the ball down the field quickly.”
On Sunday, the Lions passed 22 times with only seven runs in the second half.
Still, Detroit was surely hoping for more from Bush than 2.5 yards per carry. Bell had 27 yards on five attempts, and his 13-yard run was the team’s longest of the day.
Even after the Lions came back to tie the game on a pair of touchdown passes from Stafford to Calvin Johnson, it was hard for them to find a good spot to establish Bush or Bell. With the score 24-all, Detroit got the ball back with 1:43 to play, but the Lions were pinned at their own 6.
After a 4-yard run by Bush, Detroit threw four passes in an effort to move into field goal range. The Lions ended up having to punt, and it was Cincinnati that made the winning kick.
“That wasn’t a bad day running the ball if we get one big one. You get one big one that’s a 25-yarder, that 77 number goes up to over 100 and everybody is cheering the running game,” Stafford said. “You’re going to have games like that. I was proud of the effort the guys put up front and our backs as well. We just didn’t pop one big one.”
NOTES: OL Corey Hilliard was optimistic Tuesday about being able to recover quickly from his knee injury last weekend, but he didn’t offer many details. ... WR Nate Burleson, who has been out since hurting his arm in a car accident last month, said he’s now able to lift weights.