Three very odd plays sum up the frustration that consumed the Detroit Lions in 2012:
• Sept. 23 at Tennessee: Trailing by three points in overtime, the Lions faced a fourth-and-1 at the Titans’ 7-yard line. The plan was to line up and try to draw the defense offsides. But center Dominic Raiola somehow didn’t get the word and snapped the ball by mistake. Quarterback Shaun Hill failed to get the first down and the game was over. Instead of kicking a tying field goal to continue in overtime, the Lions lost, 44-41.
• Thanksgiving Day vs. Houston: With the Lions leading by 10 points midway through the third quarter, coach Jim Schwartz illegally challenged an 81-yard touchdown run when officials failed to notice that the Houston running back should have been ruled down after a short gain before popping up and running to the end zone. A strange rule, which is soon to be changed, punishes coaches for challenging scoring plays, which are automatically reviewed in the replay booth. The rule’s intent was to keep coaches from wasting officials’ time in those situations. Schwartz threw the flag out of anger for the missed call, and he paid for it. His decision negated the opportunity for the play to be officially reviewed, giving Houston the game-turning touchdown en route to a 34-31 overtime victory.
• Dec. 22 vs. Atlanta: After the Lions’ defense forced a safety, the Falcons made a free kick from their 20-yard line. Return specialist Stefan Logan caught the ball at the Lions’ 4-yard line and inexplicably took a knee even though there was no Atlanta player anywhere close to him. Logan apparently thought he was in the end zone and was downing the ball a touchback. Instead, the Lions took over at their 4. Detroit was trailing 31-18 with 1:21 remaining, so, realistically, it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. However, it was one more example of just how bad this season has gotten for the Lions. Brain cramps like these aren’t supposed to happen in the NFL.
It’s been a long year for the Lions, who had high expectations coming off a 10-win, playoff season in 2011.
Other than Calvin Johnson, nothing went right in 2012.
It started Jan. 7 with a 45-28 loss at New Orleans in the playoffs and really never stopped.
Even the offseason was an embarrassment for the franchise with four players getting arrested a total of seven times. That led to increasing criticism that there isn’t enough discipline from the coaches and leadership among the players on this team. While it seemed obvious to most that to take the next step the Lions needed to improve their suspect defense, general manager Martin Mayhew and company decided to select offensive players — lineman Riley Reiff and receiver Ryan Broyles — in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
Reiff and Broyles are quality players, but they became controversial picks because the Lions so desperately needed help on defense.
Still, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, Johnson and the rest of the offense back, there was reason to believe the Lions would be playoff bound for a second straight year. They opened the season with a last-second comeback victory over St. Louis, but then lost their next three games.
That included becoming the first team in NFL history to give up both a punt return and a kick return for touchdowns in back-to-back games.
The Lions bounced back to win three of four to even their record at 4-4 midway through the season following a victory at Jacksonville on Nov. 4.
No one could have imagined at the time that it would be the Lions’ last win heading into Sunday’s season finale against Chicago.
Seven straight losses, including three in a row at home against playoff-bound teams Green Bay, Houston and Indianapolis by a combined total of nine points, have turned this into another season from hell for the Detroit Lions.
Injuries have depleted the club at receiver, in the secondary and on the defensive line. Kicker Jason Hanson has made 31 of 35 field-goal attempts, but he missed a 47-yarder off the right upright that could have won the Houston game in overtime.
Stafford (17 touchdowns, 16 interceptions) has been terribly inconsistent and taken a step back in his fourth NFL season.
One of his receivers, Titus Young, was sent home for the final six games for insubordination, after his erratic and selfish behavior became a distraction to the team.
The defense overachieved early on considering the injuries and lack of talent in the secondary, but when the Lions really needed a stop, they couldn’t make it. Indianapolis scored on a 14-yard pass play on the game’s final play to win 35-33 on Dec. 2.
Offense, defense, special teams … somehow, someway the Lions always found a way to lose.
The lowest point came 10 days ago when they were humiliated 38-10 at Arizona, which had lost nine straight and was blown out 58-0 by Seattle a week earlier.
In the end, Johnson’s record-breaking year has been the only significant highlight. “Megatron” surpassed Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for the most receiving yards in a season with 1,892 through 15 games.
But even his standout season wasn’t totally fulfilling because Johnson has only five touchdown catches.
With a 4-11 record and one game to go, Schwartz and Mayhew find themselves on the hot seat — perhaps not internally, but certainly from a public-opinion standpoint.
Who would have predicted that a year ago at this time when the club was celebrating its first playoff berth in more than a decade?