Lions’ last-second loss to Bills snaps win streak but doesn’t diminish confidence

DETROIT — While there was no hiding the disappointment and frustration of being within seconds of a win against one of the NFL’s elite teams, the Lions learned a little about themselves on Thursday.

When it was over the Lions lost 28-25 to the Buffalo Bills in the annual Thanksgiving game at Ford Field before 66,000-plus fans. It was the second straight win at Ford Field for the Bills (8-3) whose game against the Browns on Sunday was moved due to a snowstorm.

The Lions had turned a corner with three straight wins – two of them on the road. The loss on Thursday does not impact their faith in themselves. This is a different team than it was before those wins.

“I said it before the game, ‘This isn’t the (effing) same old Lions anymore.’ We’re going to go out there and we’re going to get our respect. We’re going to earn that respect,’’ left tackle Taylor Decker said. “We came up short today. Week in and week out we know we’re going to go out there and bring it. We’re not going to get down, we’re going to keep fighting. … I think we’re still trending up, I really do.’’

Coach Dan Campbell feels the same way. “I think just for (the team) to know that once again when you play a team like this it doesn’t always have to be perfect but when you’re playing that caliber of team the margin for error is very  minute,’’ the coach said.

“I also want them to understand it should sting that we lost that game because we had our opportunities.That doesn’t mean we’ve taken a step back either. I still felt growth today. I feel like we’re continuing to take a step, we are fighting some things out. Yeah, there are still mistakes but I don’t feel like this was a step back, I still feel like we’re moving forward. … This can be a positive for us, not a negative,’’ he added.

Five keys to the game:

1. With 32 seconds left in the game, and the Lions down 25-22, Jared Goff’s pass to D.J. Chark on third-and-1 from Buffalo’s 33 was incomplete.”I wish I had thrown a different ball. I thought the play-call was great and (I) had some options what to do there, and yeah, if you had to do it again, do you do something differently? I don’t know, maybe, but if I throw a better ball, it might not matter,’’ Goiff said.. “But yeah, unfortunately, that’s going to be the play that gets focused on, but there’s a lot of plays that could have gone either way today as well.’’ 

2. Then instead of going for it on fourth-and-1, Michael Badgley kicked a 51-yard field goal to tie it. That left 23 seconds for the Bills to go downfield and score. Turns out they only needed 21. Josh Allen moved the Bills downfield to get in field goal range for Tyler Bass who kicked the game-winning 45-yard field goal. Campbell said he was trying to balance everything and wouldn’t change his calls. The Lions converted three fourth downs early in the game, one for a touchdown. 

3. Goff was pressured all game with two backup guards starting — Dan Skipper at left guard and Kayode Awosika at right guard. Still Goff found success especially getting the ball to Amon-Ra St. Brown who had nine catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Goff was 23 of 27 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

4. Bills quarterback Josh Allen gave the defense fits with his mobility and all-around strong play.  “That quarterback is the real deal, he’s a warrior, he’s clutch and homemade a lot of significant plays,’’ Campbell said. Allen completed 24 of 42 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns, He was also intercepted by Alex Anzalone. Allen also was the Bills’ leading rusher with 10 carries for 78 yards and a rushing touchdown. He gave credit to the Lions. “That’s a good team playing very well and playing good football right now, and they’re coached extremely well. So credit to them for such a good game plan,’’ Allen said.”But again, guys just continuing to grind. Guys going down, stepping up, just finding a way. Proud of our guys for doing that.’’

5. While kicker Michael Badgley came through with a 51-yard field goal to tie the game with 23 seconds left, he missed a 29-yarder wide left early in the game. The loss isn’t all on him but certainly the Lions need everyone to play nearly perfectly against a team like the Bills – or any NFL team for that matter.

BONUS: Rookie linebacker James Houston, a sixth-round pick, made a statement when he sacked Allen twice. It was his first NFL game experience. His mom and dad were able to make it to Detroit for the game and as a bonus it was his mom’s birthday .”I was expecting to kind of spare a little bit and go in on third downs and kind of help out a little bit,’’ Houston said. “With (LB Julian Okwara) JO going out I went in a little bit more. It’s just, opportunity meets preparation and that breeds success.”

(Up next: Jacksonville Jaguars at Lions, 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4)

Five things to watch as the Lions look to beat the Bills; plus prediction

With the LIons returning home with a three-game win streak, coach Dan Campbell expects Ford Field to be electric on Thanksgiving when they face the Buffalo Bills.

“That was one of the first things I thought of after this (Giants) game on the plane ride home is like, man, this place is going to be – because it’s been good. I mean, it’s been electric and I can only imagine now,’’ Campbell said. “ I already know it’s going to be on fire. … It’s going to be great. It’s going to be great.”

The fans should provide a welcoming atmosphere but the Lions (4-6) have to play a clean game to have a chance to beat the Bills (7-2) who have lost two of their last three.

Campbell said he’s not sure he sees this as a measuring stick kind of game.

“I think any time you win in this League, you have to do some things right no matter who you’re playing and it all comes down to the same things,’’ Campbell said. “And you’re trying to give yourself the best opportunity to win a game, and so to me, if we can do that when we’re competitive and we come out on top by the end of this game then we did things right,’’ Campbell said. “But if we play good clean football, I like our odds.”

The LIons haven’t won a Thanksgiving game since 2016. If they beat the Bills they will have a 4-0 record in November for the first time since 1962, per NFL research. Sixty years is a long time..

Five things to watch as Lions welcome the Bills:

1. Bills quarterback Josh Allen has been on the injury report with a shoulder but Campbell said he looks good on film. Mobile quarterbacks like Allen have found some success against these Lions. Allen, who has passed for 21 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions, is also the Bills’ leading rusher with 483 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Campbell said Allen is much like Bears quarterback Justin Fields.  “(He) can certainly throw in the pocket, throw on the run, can break tackles, run you over, has a quick release, he’s accurate. I mean, he just – he can do it all. He can do everything and does it very well. So, everything starts with him,’’ Campbell said. “We talked about (Giants RB Saquon) Barkley last week, everything starts with this guy. So, to say that you’re going to completely shut that down is hard for any defense, but certainly we’ve got to contain him as much as we possibly can. And I think that a lot of that comes on challenging the perimeter.’’ Fields gashed the Lions with 147 rushing yards and two rushing TDs, but Detroit eked out the win.

2. Detroit’s defense has stepped up its game on takeaways with seven during the three-game win streak. That needs to continue on Thursday.  “We’re going to need them and look, that’s been part of the secret sauce for us. We are getting them and that’s – and that means we’re turning a corner because we are getting them out. And so, we’ve got to continue that trend and if we can put (Allen) in a position to where he feels like he needs to get rid of the ball and we get our hands on it. We have to capitalize, so it’s going to be big for us. It’s been big for us.” On Sunday the Lions picked off Giants quarterback Daniel Jones twice, doubling his interception total for the season.

3. It’s no coincidence that the Lions defense improves from week to week. That’s always the hope when three rookies start. Aidan Hutchinson, who was the NFC’s defensive player of the week, has 5.5 sacks and two interceptions so far. He is developing before our eyes. Same with rooki cornerback Kerby Joseph (who leads the team with three interceptions) and rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez who is everywhere. Wins breed confidence which is just what this young bunch needed.

4. Jared Goff’s command of the offense has also grown over the last three games even though he’s been missing key receivers. D.J. Chark, who returned for 11 snaps on Sunday, is expected to see more action against the Bills. Whoever is up, Goff has been able to get them the ball with much success. That effort is helped in a huge way by running back Jamaal Williams who opens up the passing game. Goff said the Bills do nearly everything well defensively. “They obviously rush the passer well, Von (Miller), and a handful of those guys over there, and they’re just extremely sound,’’ Goff said. “I think it’s got to be the top linebacker duo in the :league if (Tremaine) Edmunds is able to play, and (Matt) Milano, and on the backend, they’re sharp as well. They’re really sound and do a good job and pressure when they need to and create chaos.”

5. While the team has improved week to week, so has Campbell’s coaching. Funny how that works. Last year was his first Thanksgiving game as a head coach and it came up on him fast. It was a lesson learned. Expect the team to be well prepared for the Bills.

(Prediction: Lions 28,  Bills 27) OK, on Sunday I picked the Lions to beat the Giants and got grief for it until afterward. The Bills have the NFL’s second-best offense and their defense allows only 17.4 points per game. Yet, they have lost two of their last three. Numbers aren’t everything – the Lions defense is still ranked 32nd even after shutting down the Giants. After careful deliberation I’m picking the Lions who will be riding an emotional high.)

Lions notes: Rookie Jameson Williams takes first step toward return

ALLEN PARK — Lions first-round pick, wide receiver Jameson Williams, returned to the field on Monday. Coming off injured reserve, the Lions have up to three weeks to activate him for a game. 

Jameson, who played at Alabama, tore his ACL in January’s national championship game and hasn’t been on the field since. It seems highly unlikely he will play on Thursday because of the shortened week of preparation for Thursday’s game against the Bills. 

Coach Dan Campbell does not know at what point Williams will be ready to be active for a game.

“I know this, he can run and that’s not hard to do. You’ve either got it or you don’t, he’s got it,’’ the coach said. “In that regard he can help.’’

Of course there will be a learning curve. Even though Williams has not been able to practice since the draft, he has been in meetings and he’s gotten to know his teammates. 

“There’s some good rapport. When that time comes he’ll earn respect from his teammates like the rest of his guys have,’’ Campbell said.

Again, no estimate from the coach on when he’ll make his debut.

“The rehab that he’s done — even though this is technically not practice if you will, it’s walk-through mode — the things he’ll do starting today out there live are much more football-oriented,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “We’ll see where he can go and see how fast he can get there.’’

Quarterback Jared Goff said it was good to see him out at the walk-through. “He’s got so much speed and ability,’’ Goff said.

Learning experience

Campbell said he learned a lot from playing on Thanksgiving last year and it should help with the preparation this week.

“Last year it was literally, you’ve heard the term, it was drinking out of a firehose. I’ve done it before as a player and a coach, but not as a head coach. Man, it gets on you in a hurry,’’ Campbell said. “I do feel like for me personally, I’m much more prepared for getting us prepared for this week. …There’s no easy way to do it. However you cut it, it’s hard on the players and the coaches.’’

The assistant coaches had prepared statistics and notes earlier. The coaching staff met last night when they got back from the win at the N.Y. Giants.

Last year the Lions lost 16-14 to the Bears on Thanksgiving

Breaking records

Rookie Aidan Hutchinson is the NFL’s first defensive lineman to produce a season with at least 5 sacks, 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery since Jared Allen in 2010. And Hutchinson becomes the third rookie defensive lineman in NFL history joining Leslie O’Neal (1986) and John Zook (1969). He’s making a case for NFL defensive rookie of the year. 

Ins and outs

Lions had to estimate a practice report since they were just planning a walk-through in preparation for Thursday’s game. Those who wouldn’t have practiced include OL Evan Brown (ankle), DL Charles Harris (groin), G Jonah Jackson (illness), CB Jeff Okudah (concussion), Josh Paschal (knee), C Frank Ragnow (foot), and  WR Josh Reynolds (back). WR D.J Chark (ankle) would have been limited. Campbell said that it doesn’t appear there is any way that OKudah will be cleared to play by Thursday.