Lions' offense struggles in loss to Cardinals

BY foxsports • November 16, 2014

The Detroit Lions went into Sunday playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and they left with the realization that just winning their division is going to be extremely difficult now.

Despite all of their highly-publicized offensive weapons, the Lions failed to get into the end zone against the relentless Arizona Cardinals, losing 14-6, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

It's the first time the Lions haven't scored a touchdown in a game in five years.

What made it worse was that the Green Bay Packers continued to roll, blowing out the Philadelphia Eagles, 53-20, which left the Lions and Packers in a first-place tie at 7-3 in the NFC North with six games remaining.

The Lions, who haven't won a division title since 1993, play at Green Bay in the final game of the regular season. They're also on the road next Sunday against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

That home playoff game isn't looking so good anymore.

While the Detroit defense has been overachieving, at least by preseason expectations, the offense continues to be perplexingly inconsistent.

Arizona's secondary, led by cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, shut down the Lions' top receiving duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

Johnson had five receptions for 59 yards and Tate was held to just two catches for 41 yards. Tate had been over 100 yards receiving in five of the previous six games.

The Cardinals' frequent blitzes were a big part of the problem for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who passed for 183 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He got sacked four times.

"We just couldn't get rolling there at the end like we typically do," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said during his post-game radio interview. "You've got to give some credit to them (the Cardinals). That's a good football team and they played well.

"We started out slow. We didn't execute very well. Overall, I think we were just not quite as sharp."

The Lions, who had their four-game winning streak come to an end, reverted to some of their self-destructive ways of the past. They were called for nine penalties totaling 80 yards compared to four penalties for 35 yards against the Cardinals.

The Lions actually had been charged with seven penalties for 70 yards before the Cardinals were called for their first infraction, on their first possession of the second half.

A week ago, Detroit had 10 penalties for 98 yards. In the last four games, they've averaged nine penalties for 83.5 yards.

That's more like how they played in recent years under former coach Jim Schwartz.

Caldwell said of Sunday's performance, "We penalized ourselves out of scoring territory, which you can't do against a good team."

Drew Stanton, who played in high school at Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison, in college at Michigan State and was a second-round draft pick by the Lions in 2007, came out picking apart his former team. He finished with a career-high 306 passing yards.

Stanton has replaced injured Carson Palmer as the Arizona starter, and he struck quickly to lead the Cardinals to a 14-0 lead in the first nine minutes with two touchdown passes to Michael Floyd.

They were Floyd's only receptions in the game.

Stanton, however, later threw two interceptions in Detroit territory just when it appeared the Cardinals would add to their lead and perhaps even turn the game into an early rout.

A scoreless second half by both teams kept it a one-possession game, but there would be no last-minute heroics this time by the Lions like in their last three games that ended with dramatic comebacks.

A questionable call didn't help the Lions' chances any on a very unusual play early in the fourth quarter.

It initially appeared the Lions were going to start from inside their 5-yard line after an Arizona punt early in the fourth quarter.

But to save the ball from going into the end zone for a touchback, the Cardinals' Justin Bethel threw it back in play. The ball deflected off of one of Bethel's teammates, and the Lions' punt returner, Jeremy Ross, picked it up at the 5-yard line and ran it back near midfield.

That appeared to be just the break the Lions needed.

However, Arizona coach Bruce Arians challenged the ruling on the field and the call was overturned. The final decision was that Bethel had possessed the ball at the 1-yard line, and the play should have been ruled dead there.

Therefore, the Lions had to start at their 1-yard line after all.

The difference in field position was crucial, especially for an offense struggling to sustain any momentum.

Mike Pereira, FOX's rules analyst, was surprised by the overturn. He felt Bethel hadn't held onto the ball long enough to justify calling it down at that point.

"I really do not agree with that ruling," Pereira said during the telecast.

The Lions ended up moving the ball all the way into Arizona territory on the ensuing drive, but they got stopped on fourth-and-2 when Stafford fired incomplete.

Detroit's next possession was stymied by a miscommunication when center Dominic Raiola snapped the ball on third down while Stafford was trying to change the play.

The Cardinals (9-1) clinched their sixth straight victory when Larry Fitzgerald made a catch on a third-and-11 play and was given the first-down spot just before the two-minute warning, which allowed them to start taking a knee to run out the clock.

Not exactly the way the Lions had gotten used to these things ending of late.


--- Stafford, in the 71st game of his career, became the fastest in NFL history to reach 20,000 passing yards. The milestone throw was a 30-yard connection with Tate in the second quarter. Former Miami quarterback Dan Marino reached 20,000 in 74 games.

--- The Lions were without running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot). Bush has missed three of the last five games. Pettigrew was a surprise inactive after being listed as probable Friday, but he's had a lingering injury. It helped that two other tight ends, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria, returned to the lineup after both had missed multiple games.

--- There's never a dull moment with the Lions' kicking game. Matt Prater's 50-yard field goal bounced off the left upright. It was the second time in five games with Detroit that the upright has been friendly to him.

--- Joique Bell's downhill running was a highlight for the second straight week. In this case, one of the rare highlights. He rushed for 85 yards on 14 attempts, an average of 6.1 per carry. His 33-yard run in the first quarter was the longest of the season for the Lions and the second-longest of Bell's career.

--- The Lions keep getting timely contributions from backup defensive players. Reserve linebacker Josh Bynes and defensive back Cassius Vaughn both made interceptions.