By Tom Pollin
CHFF's Turkey Day Feast Enjoyer (@tjpollin)
The Detroit Lions lost their ninth consecutive Thanksgiving Day game in overtime against the Houston Texans 34-31. It was the Texans second overtime victory in four days. They defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday 43-37 on an Andre Johnson 48-yard touchdown catch.
Even with the loss it was the Lions’ competitive Thanksgiving Day performance since beating the Green Bay Packers 22-14 in 2003 in their first season with Steve Mariucci as head coach. The Lions have been looking for a signature win ever since they emerged as a playoff contender last year and almost had it against not just a Quality Opponent but an elite one.
The win by the Texans keeps them in front of the field for the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC. For the Lions, it drops their season record to 4-7 and if they weren’t that way before, completely extinguishes their 2013 playoff hopes.
A victory wouldn’t have improved their playoff positioning too much anyway considering this was a non-conference game with no appreciable effect on tiebreaker possibilities.
As the Redskins work on crushing the Cowboys in their late afternoon game, here are five things we’ve learned from the Lions’ effort at Ford Field.
The Lions jumped into the lead with a touchdown and lead most of the game.
The Lions have jumped out to early leads in eight games now but this was only the third game where they jumped out in front with a touchdown. The first was against the Seahawks, the second was against the Jaguars and the Lions won both games. In the five games they relied on Jason Hanson to put their first points up on the scoreboard they have lost four.
The Lions had plentiful opportunities to win this game and almost pulled it out despite two terrible officiating calls. The first, with five minutes left in the first quarter, came when Erik Coleman grabbed the ball in what should have been ruled a muffed punt recovery.
The ball was awarded to the Texans after a Schwartz challenge was shot down by referee Walt Coleman, even though the replay clearly showed the ball should have been awarded to Detroit.
The Lions also had to overcome a call that allowed Justin Forsett’s non-touchdown touchdown in the third quarter, closing the Lions’ lead at the time to 24-21. Schwartz not only lost the ability to have the play reviewed and overturned by his quick release, snap throw of the challenge flag, he was penalized 15-yards for his efforts.
The first play denied the Lions a chance to extend their lead with excellent field position, the second put seven points on the scoreboard for the Texans that they shouldn’t have had. The score should have remained 24-14 at the time and greatly reduced the possibility of their ability to engineer a successful comeback.
2. The run play to position a winning field goal is officially a weak excuse for strategy.
The overtime period was filled with excitement due to turnovers created by both teams that gave each a chance to give thanks for a victory. Both victimized themselves by a piece of strategy that has become etched in stone as a piece of coaching canon, a stone that should be chiseled into dust.
Five minutes into the overtime period the Texans had driven to the Lions’ 29-yard line, putting them in range for a Shayne Graham 48-yard field goal attempt to win the game. Graham has made five of seven field goals between 40-49 yards this season.
The run by Arian Foster called by the Texans to position the ball to the left hash mark for the field goal attempt lost yardage and forced Graham into a 51-yard attempt. He’s converted only one out of three attempts from that range this season and his try “Crosbyed”* inches past the left upright to continue the game.
With just under five minutes left in the overtime the Lions had their opportunity and, not learning their lesson, worked the same play calls. With the ball on the Texans’ 26-yard line the Lions ran the ball for a three yard loss, moving the field goal from 44 to 47-yards away.
While normally deadly from 40 to 49 yards away, the veteran “Crosbyed” his attempt off the right upright and ended the Lions’ final opportunity to win.
* Named after the Packers’ Mason Crosby, definition - missing a makeable field goal with the game on the line.
3. Matthew Stafford has fallen into a terrible habit that’s affecting his throwing accuracy.
Stafford has picked up a sidearm delivery that on one hand allows him to get rid of the ball on the run with a split-second’s notice but is hurting his pocket mechanics and overall accuracy. It allowed him to thread a 22-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson while on the run but it has him in a habit of attempting to deliver more of his pocket passes off his back foot.
Stafford under threw a number of his attempts against the Texans, most notably a fade attempt to Calvin Johnson that was almost intercepted by Houston’s Alan Ball in the end zone early in the fourth quarter and a curl route to Johnson on third and 10 that Danieal Manning nearly intercepted in the end zone. Both of those passes had the same thing in common, Stafford in the pocket throwing off his back foot.
For all you baseball fans out there, and I know there are a few of you, you’re aware that the sidearm delivery itself dramatically drops arm accuracy due to the difficulty of maintaining a consistent release point for every delivery. Stafford has been overthrowing and under throwing his targets all season due to his failure to square his body and shift his weight into his throwing motion. The sidearm delivery is not a good habit, no matter how much Jim Nantz and Phil Simms rave about it.
4. Would it be Thanksgiving Day without a Ndamukong Suh sighting.
Suh had an excellent game in the middle, tying up blockers and collapsing the pocket in front of Schaub to keep him on the move. All of that ends up forgotten because of his mule kick into the center of Matt Schaub’s “being” that dropped him to the turf in agony.
Suh drew attention, and a two game suspension, last season after his turkey day stomp on the arm of Evan Dietrich-Smith after the Lions had stopped the Packers on third down to hold them to a field goal attempt. The personal foul penalty he drew helped the Packers open the floodgates in what was a close, 7-0 game.
In this instance it’s difficult to assign intent on what Suh did but there’s no doubt about his ability to create controversy, especially when on the national stage.
5. Thanks to the NFL, the Lions and the Texans for putting on an entertaining game.
There have been a number of blowout games staged on Thanksgiving, and not just in Detroit. Staying within the confines of Ford Field though, during the previous eight games of the Lions’ Thanksgiving game losing streak they’ve been outscored by 35.6 Points per Game to 14.1.
With that average score, the second half of the Lions’ turkey day efforts had provided ideal opportunities to take care of travelling to family and putting the final touches on Thanksgiving Dinner.
In other words, I wish everyone in the extended Cold, Hard Football Facts and Football Nation family a great Thanksgiving Day. Also, stay inside and safe on “Black Friday”, unless you’re angling for that record sized big screen television to watch the NFL’s stretch run to the playoffs.
Follow me on Twitter @tjpollin and also “Like” my Facebook page, Football From Adderly to Zimmerman (A to Z) to read more of my articles, leave comments, discuss football and read other writers covering the NFL.