DETROIT – With so much on the line Monday night for the Detroit Lions, here’s how running back Reggie Bush summed up his team’s performance:
“We didn’t play like we wanted it. It falls on the leadership of this team. It falls on the starters, the playmakers.”
And, in the end, it falls on coach Jim Schwartz.
Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining lifted the Baltimore Ravens to an 18-16 victory at Ford Field to put the Lions on the brink of elimination in a division race that they totally controlled not that long ago.
The Lions (7-7) had at least a share of first place in the NFC North since early November, but they’ve now fallen into third place behind the Chicago Bears (8-6) and Green Bay Packers (7-6-1) with two games remaining.
Detroit needs to beat both the New York Giants at home next Sunday and the Minnesota Vikings on the road in the final game to have any chance.
If Chicago (at Philadelphia) and Green Bay (vs. Pittsburgh) both win next week, the Lions will be automatically eliminated because the Bears and Packers meet in the final game.
It’s been quite a collapse by Detroit, which has lost four of its last five while failing to secure its first division title in two decades.
“It’s not surreal, it’s reality,” Bush said. “We had everything right there in front of us to keep control of the division and we didn’t make it happen.”
When asked about his job security, Schwartz chose to focus on trying to get his team to regroup from the heartbreaking loss and then hoping to get some help to still win the division.
“We have two games to play and we’re one down in our division,” Schwartz said. “That’s the only thing we need to worry about, that’s the only thing we need to concern ourselves with right now.
“We need to find a way to come back with a win against the Giants, go on the road, beat the Vikings and let the dust settle and see where that takes us.”
The Lions scored the only two touchdowns of the game, including a 14-yard catch by tight end Joseph Fauria to take a one-point lead with 2:21 left.
They ended up losing by a foot — the right foot of Tucker, who kicked six field goals to account for all of Baltimore’s scoring.
The Lions came in calling this a “must-win” game because they knew that control of their destiny was on the line with the Bears and Packers both winning their last two games to get back in contention.
Those are the nights when the star players need to perform like stars, but that didn’t happen for the Lions.
Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford was inconsistent all night and continued a recent turnover binge with three more interceptions.
“I didn’t play my best game by any means,” Stafford said.
What’s really hard to believe is that Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest receivers of all time, uncharacteristically dropped two passes that sent a bad vibe throughout the stadium.
If Megatron can’t get the job done under the pressure then who can?
After scoring on the opening drive, the Lions were moving again on their next possession but that came to a screeching halt when Johnson dropped a pass over the middle when he was wide open and would have taken it deep into Baltimore territory.
The Lions then looked like they might put together a two-minute drill before the half, but that all changed again when Johnson dropped another pass when he was open.
Johnson admitted that his drops took away valuable momentum. It also may have sapped some of his team’s confidence, too.
“We had some things going there,” Johnson said. “Some critical third downs, we could have kept drives going.
“When that happens, you just didn’t look the ball all the way in. It’s as simple as that. I’ve just got to stay on it one more second. It’s fundamental.”
With so much hype entering a rare Monday Night Football appearance, you had to wonder whether the Lions might have been a little tight while feeling the pressure.
Bush said that wasn’t the case.
“I just think we didn’t execute,” he said. “We had at least two third-and-ones that we should have had, that we can make in our sleep.”
Schwartz added: “I don’t know Calvin Johnson or Stafford to be jittery. It falls into they’re human beings. As much as we say Megatron and things like that, there’s still a human element to the game. You’re not going to catch every single one. Every single pass isn’t going to be perfect.”
Schwartz had to be devastated inside, but he tried to stay strong and upbeat in his post-game news conference.
“I like the character of our team,” he said. “I like the toughness of our team. I like our quarterback. Our quarterback will bounce back. He’s going to play great over these next two games.”
It might be too late.
If so, the Lions are going to have a lot of regrets about what occurred these last few weeks, perhaps none greater than their approach Monday with their playoff hopes on the line and a raucous home crowd ready to explode.
Asked whether there was enough sense of urgency by the Lions, Bush answered bluntly: “No, there wasn’t. It was pretty evident.”
Under the circumstances, with so much at stake, that’s a really sad admission.
One that makes you inevitably question the direction of this club from top to bottom.