Five keys to the Detroit Lions’ 37-35 loss to the Vikings

DETROIT — In one of the strangest seasons in NFL history thanks in part to the COVID pandemic, it’s finally over for the Detroit Lions.

They put an exclamation mark on a frustrating season with a 37-35 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions finished 5-11 with just one home win.

The defense, which has struggled all season, set franchise records for the most points and yards given up in a season. They were worse than the winless 2008 team. Think about it.

Interim coach Darrell Bevell took over for the final five games (one he spent at home due to COVID protocol) and while the team seemed more energized the wins did not come. 

“I’ve told these guys how much I love this game, how much I respect it. I think it says a lot in situations you guys might say is meaningless but there’s a lot of history in this game, there’s a lot of people who have been on the field before us,’’ Bevell said. “To go out and to play continually for one another as hard as they did the whole game long I think it speaks a lot for these guys.’’

Five of the keys in the game.

1. Quarterback Kirk Cousins played like Aaron Rodgers thanks to the Detroit defense. He threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns. And the Vikings were missing running back Dalvin Cook.Still they were able to run up the yards against Detroit’s porous defense.

2. The loss was by two points so every play mattered. Early in the fourth on fourth-and-goal on Detroit’s 1-yard-line, Tracy Walker broke through and sacked Cousins. Well, that’s what it looked like. However referee Adrian Hill blew the whistle and called it roughing the passer. That gave the Vikings a new set of downs and they scored on a Cousins keeper two plays later. After the game, Hill told the pool reporter (which is me): “By rule, one of the categories for roughing the passer is full body weight, where the tackler lands with his full body weight on the quarterback. That’s the category this play fell into. The momentum doesn’t play a role and the rolling off afterwards does not play a role. It’s that initial contact to the ground. If you roll off afterwards, that doesn’t eliminate the foul.” … Bevell said he was told on the sidelines that it was because of body weight, but the coach said he’d like to get another look at the replay.

3. Matthew Stafford had a solid game but his one interception was costly. He finished 20 of 31 for 293 yards and three touchdowns. He was playing with a bad pack, ribs and injured thumb. Yet, he was out there and there wasn’t really much doubt that he’d be on the field despite limited practices. “It’s a cool relationship to have with the quarterback,’’ Bevell said. “I really appreciate what he did. The guy’s out there, not 100 percent, he’s fighting for his teammates. He talked to the team last night about respect for the game, the history, the guys who came before us. The guy is laying everything on the line in a game that he doesn’t need to. I think that says a lot about him as a person, as a quarterback, what he means to the team.’’

4. With two touchdown catches Marvin Jones Jr., became the third leading wide receiver in all of franchise history. He finished with 36 touchdowns in Detroit (he has 50 overall in the NFL) which places him behind Calvin Johhson (83) and Herman Moore (62). He had eight catches for 180 yards and another touchdown that was reversed on a challenge. “Marv was hot early and I was going to keep feeding him. Obviously I wish that third touchdown I thought it was a great catch, i’m not sure it hit the ground,’’ Stafford said. “Maybe there’s a better view. We didn’t have a good one in the stadium. I’m really happy for him. He’s been a really good player for us for 5 years and I’ve enjoyed playing with him. The guy’s an incredible talent obviously, a great, great friend of mine and a great teammate. I’m just happy he had a big day.’’ Jones will be a free agent heading into next season so it’s unclear if he will return.

5. Bevell was handed a tough task after Patricia was fired. He handled it with grace and passion. His love for the game is obvious. “I was extremely proud of the way he stepped into that situation, it’s a tough one. It’s a tough year to be a coach in the NFL with all the extra COVID stuff going on, all the regulations, I thought he did an outstanding job. He’s a hack of a person and everybody got to realize that,’’ Stafford said. … “He’s a great person, a great coach, I was just really happy he got the opportunity and I think everybody in our locker room really rallied around him which was awesome. I want to win more football games than we did but I thought he stepped in and did a great job.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions close out season vs. Vikings

You can call it a meaningless game with the Lions hosting the Vikings on Sunday. After all it’s Week 16 and neither team is heading to the playoffs. But that is not how the players and coaches view it. 

“This is what we do. This is what we love. This is why we’re in this business is to play the game of football and play the game we love. We signed up for 16 games,’’ Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “They’re giving us the 16th game, another opportunity, regardless of scenario situations. This is what we do, so we want to go play.

“We want to put our best foot forward. We want to play the way that we’re capable of playing and look for a win and be able to go out the way that we would like to go out,’’ he added.

Fans may want the Lions lose to get a better draft pick but that is not how the guys on the field look at it.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford, who injured his ankle last week in the loss to the Packers, is officially questionable to play. Or, in other words, expect him to start. “With Matthew, I think the best thing for him is that he’s got the best feel and read for his body. So, we’ll continue to progress like we normally do with him. Some of the other injuries are resolving, so we’ll see how this injury on his ankle resolves as well by the end of the week,’’ Bevell said.

2. When the Vikings beat the Lions, 34-20, on Nov. 8, running back Dalvin Cook was on fire with 22 carries for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cook won’t play Sunday due to his father’s death. His absence obviously plays in the Lions’ favor but that does not mean it will be an automatic win for  Detroit. 

3. Detroit’s defense must play better than against the Packers. It was an embarrassment. It’d be nice to see them close the season on a more positive note but not counting on it.

4. D’Andre Swift will get the start again at running back with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson picking up the slack. Johnson is the third-down back like he’s been most of the season. Swift averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the first meeting with the Vikings.

5. Bevell said his message didn’t change for this week. “It’s the same thing I’ve kind of talked about almost every day that I’ve been up here. I basically talked to the players today about the love of this game, and basically, respect for this game and what that means and what that looks like,’’ Bevell said. “I think for all of us we have a great love for this game. To echo (Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer) ‘Zim’, yes, this is the last game that you’ll play, and it will stick with you for a long time. It’s one that you’ll remember the most, but there’s still other things that we’ll remember. As far as going out – it’s what we signed up for, it’s what we love to do.’’

PREDICTION: Vikings 34, Lions 17

Lions lose in embarrassing fashion to Tampa Bay Bucs

After the embarrassing 47-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Detroit Lions can look for answers but it’s unlikely that they will find them with just one week left in the season.

Saturday’s loss was the worst mix of bad luck and lack of talent for the Lions. NFL COVID quarantine rules kept interim coach Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and other defensive assistants out of the game. 

“We’re not going to make any excuses, we had our team, they had their team and they outperformed us today,’’ said interim interim coach Robert Prince who filled in for Bevell.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled his right ankle in the first quarter and was not able to return.

And, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady ate his Wheaties for breakfast or whatever the equivalent is on his organic, plant-based, nutrient rich TB12 diet. He was on fire with four touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 rating. He was replaced by Blaine Gabbert early in the third in a smart move by Bucs coach Bruce Arians. The game was over.

The Lions (5-10) have already started the search for a permanent head coach and a general manager. If any candidates watched Saturday’s mess, they might take a hard pass on moving to Detroit or even visiting for an interview. 

“On offense we couldn’t’ stay on the field and on defense we couldn’t get off the field,’’ Prince said. “I think our defense played hard and had an opportunity to get off the field early in that first drive, it got extended (due to a LIons’ penalty) and they ended up getting a few more plays.’’

The Lions defense stinks. Has been bad all season — it cost Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn their jobs. Saturday’s abysmal showing didn’t just happen because Undlin was on COVID quarantine. It would have been bad no matter what. 

They gave up more points than they had all season. And to top that, the LIons defense gave up 588 yards which is a franchise record. The previous high was 566 yards in a game against Kansas City in 1990.

“I would not just blame the defense by any means, it’s a team game. Obviously it was great to get that score by the special teams to come through,’’ Prince said regarding Jamal Agnew’s punt return for a touchdown. “Offensively we have to stay on the field, if we’re not on the field very long for offense and the defense has to stay on obviously it’s going to be tough for them and they’re going to wear out. It was a team loss and it started with me.’’

The offense can be decent. We’ve seen good signs with Bevell making the calls without Matt Patricia in his ear. But Stafford is the engine that runs it and he was out early. He couldn’t even put weight on his foot at first. He hopped into the locker room on one leg, a move he might have picked up from his 3-year-old twins.

So the offense was nowhere near decent on Saturday, converting just one of 10 third-down attempts. They were held scoreless and to just 186 total yards.

Stafford is still dealing with injured ribs. Too soon to know if he will be healthy enough to play next Sunday against the Vikings. He’s tough and will want to play, don’t bet against him.

It’s a sad situation for the Lions. The Bucs were able to take advantage of the Lions many weaknesses. It’s almost the end of a lousy year and this nightmare of a game was one of the worst this season.

Prince said he didn’t think it was a hopeless situation, but from this seat it certainly looked like it.

(Up next: Minnesota Vikings at Lions, 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 3)

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)