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)

Five keys to the Lions loss at Titans, 46-25

This was never going to be easy. The Detroit Lions’ defense has had trouble stopping the run and Titans’ running back is nearly unstoppable even against the best defense.

The Titans opened up the game in the second half, defeating the Lions 46-25 at Nashville on Sunday.

The Lions drop to 1-2 under interim coach Darrell Bevell and 5-9 overall. Still, even though it was a lopsided loss, there is a renewed sense of energy on the offense but two turnovers were costly.

“It can’t happen, one on the 1-yard line, the other in the red area, you can’t turn it over against good teams and have a chance to win. I thought we were moving the ball well on good, long sustained drives, you turn it over and you don’t give yourselves a chance,’’ Bevell told WJR.

The defense continues its struggles like it has most of the season, giving up six touchdowns and 463 yards.  “We knew it was going to be a huge challenge, great running back (Derrick Henry) that they have, hard to stop, physical, he also has speed. We knew that was going to be a challenge and it turned out that way,” Bevell said.

Five keys to the Lions’ loss:

1. Two turnovers in the red zone were critical. D’Andre Swift tried to leap over the pile from the 2-yard line on third down in the second quarter, had the ball punched out and the Titans recovered. Also T.J. Hockenson had a third-down catch, fumbled it and Titans recovered early in the third quarter.

2. The Lions defense just couldn’t stop running back Derrick Henry who finished with 24 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown. Overall the Titans had 195 rushing yards which is nearly 40 yards more than their average per game. 

3. Since the defense couldn’t stop the run game, things opened up for quarterback Ryan Tannehill who was 21 of 27 for 273 yards, three passing and two rushing touchdowns. Late in the third, on a third-and-11, Tannehill completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Anthony Firkser for a first down. It was a defining play of the quarter and the game. The Titans converted 9 of 11 third-down attempts. That’s an incredible 82 percent.

4. Matthew Stafford, who was playing with injured ribs and was uncertain to go until Sunday morning, played like there was nothing wrong with him at all. We all knew he was tough, he proved it on Sunday completing 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards, one touchdown and a 102.6 rating. “It was a gutty performance by him,’’ Bevell said. He was pulled with nine minutes left after taking a big hit the previous drive. Chase Daniel stepped in and handled it well but it was too late to pull off a comeback with the Lions down by 21 points.

5. The Lions offensive line, which was without center Frank Ragnow (fracture throat), protected Stafford fairly well. He was not sacked but took a few big hits. Joe Dahl, who started at center, had never snapped to Stafford in a game but it didn’t really show. There was a miscue in the fourth quarter on a snap but surprisingly there weren’t more. Then Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who started at right tackle, couldn’t finish the game due to a concussion. 

NEXT UP: Tampa Bay Bucs (9-5) at Lions (5-9) at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 26. The Bucs topped the Falcons, 31-27, on Sunday.