You can’t call it a meltdown, not with temperatures in the 20s and after a blizzard left more than half a foot of snow on the playing field.
Let’s go with perplexing collapse.
The Detroit Lions appeared to be ready to take a another step toward their first division title in two decades Sunday before the Philadelphia Eagles rallied for four fourth-quarter touchdowns and a wild 34-20 victory at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Much of the game was played in near “white-out” conditions before the Lions simply got wiped out in the end.
“We haven’t played in anything like that, but the opponent’s playing in the same thing,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said during his post-game radio interview.
How bad was it?
Fox sideline reporter Molly McGrath said that officials measured as much as eight inches of snow on the field.
At one point, referee Ed Hochuli asked for the field to be shoveled before a play from the 1-yard line because, as he put it, “We can’t see the goal line.”
Neither team bothered to attempt a field goal. Only one extra point was kicked and it got blocked.
It seemed nearly impossible for the offenses to be effective for more than 2.5 quarters.
But then the game suddenly got scrambled from out of nowhere and the teams combined for 40 points in the final 19 minutes and five seconds.
It was the Eagles doing most of that scoring.
Now you have to wonder whether Detroit’s lead in the NFC North could be, well, slip-sliding away.
Chicago (6-6) can force a tie for the division lead with a victory Monday night at home against Dallas. Green Bay (6-6-1) is also back in the picture after beating Atlanta Sunday by a point.
Fortunately for the Lions (7-6), they play two of their final three games at home and have already clinched the tiebreaker over both the Bears and Packers.
It could be considerably easier, though, if they hadn’t let a 14-0 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter disappear in the snowstorm in Philly.
“We did have control early,” Schwartz said. “We fumbled a couple times and that hurt us. Later on, we couldn’t stop the run. We were just missing tackles up there. That was what turned the game.
“They were running the same plays. We didn’t respond well enough with the conditions and to the player (Eagles running back LeSean McCoy).”
After rushing for a total of 76 yards in the first three quarters, the Eagles’ run game exploded for 223 yards and four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.
Those were the first rushing touchdowns allowed by Detroit’s defense in nine games.
Philadelphia’s offensive line simply overwhelmed the Lions’ front seven, opening big holes for McCoy and Chris Polk.
McCoy finished with 217 yards on the ground, including touchdowns of 40 and 57 yards. Polk added a 38-yard TD.
In the final quarter, the Lions’ defense reverted to its early-season form of giving up big plays and it allowed the Eagles to come back and ultimately pull away.
All of it ruined a career day for Lions return specialist Jeremy Ross, who had a 98-yard kickoff return and a 58-yard punt return for touchdowns.
Ross, an undrafted player in 2011 coming out of the University of California, became the first Lion with both punt and kick returns for scores in the same game since Eddie Payton against Minnesota in 1977.
Ross gave the Lions a 14-point lead, which seemed somewhat insurmountable at the time under the circumstances, on the punt return in the middle of the third quarter.
Then, after Philadelphia tied the score early in the fourth quarter, Ross immediately gave the lead right back to the Lions by taking the ensuing kickoff the distance.
The Lions had horrible return units last year with Stefan Logan as the specialist and they started out that way this season with Micheal Spurlock.
That’s all changing now with Ross, originally signed to Detroit’s practice squad in early October after getting released by Green Bay, taking over for Spurlock, who got released Saturday.
“He was our only offense for a while,” Schwartz said of Ross.
Ross totaled 243 yards in returns to only 228 yards in total offense for the Lions.
Detroit was without starting running back Reggie Bush, who re-aggravated a calf injury when he slipped on the field during pre-game warm-ups.
By early in the second quarter, the Lions had already fumbled five times. Three were on snaps mishandled by Stafford that were recovered by Detroit but still slowed down the offense. The other two were by running back Joique Bell, Bush’s replacement, both of which were recovered by Philadelphia.
Stafford ended up completing only 10-of-25 passes for 148 yards.
“It wasn’t just our defense,” Schwartz said of the downfall. “We couldn’t get anything going on offense. We were dropping passes, turning the ball over.”
As a result, next Monday night’s game at Ford Field against the resurgent Baltimore Ravens becomes that much more crucial.
The good news for the Lions: There won’t be snow all over the field.
EXTRA POINTS — Calvin Johnson broke Herman Moore’s franchise record for career receiving yards with a 33-yard reception late in the first quarter.
It was a classic moment because Johnson landed head first on the field and came away with a facemask full of snow.
Johnson now has 9,184 yards in his first seven seasons in the league. Moore had 9,174 yards from 1991-2001.
— FOX analyst Jimmy Johnson predicted during the pre-game show that the Lions will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC for the playoffs.
“I think Detroit might be the most talented team in the entire league,” said Johnson, who coached the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl championships in 1992 and 1993. “I think they’ve got enough talent to win it all if they weren’t a sloppy team.
“They’re undisciplined; they turn it over – 25 turnovers, 80 penalties. A sloppy team, an undisciplined team, they’re easily distracted.”
— Michael Strahan, another Fox analyst, ranked Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy fourth among candidates for the NFL’s top defensive player this season, behind Seattle safety Earl Thomas, Indianapolis linebacker Robert Mathis and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly.
“He is a shutdown linebacker,” Strahan, a former New York Giants defensive end, said of Levy. “You don’t see many of those.”
When it was mentioned that Levy led the NFL in interceptions with six, Strahan added, “The man’s got the Midas touch.”
— Philadelphia was 2-for-5 on two-point conversions. Detroit was 1-for-2.
The Lions only kicked on the one PAT attempt because there was a false-start penalty when they first lined up for a two-point try.