The Detroit Lions found yet another astonishing way to lose a football game on Sunday, but give them credit for changing the script and proving that there is a whole host of ways to lose football games.
It is clear that the Mayans are wrong, and the Lions ability to lose games in a fashion that Hollywood could not dream of has the world centered and right where it is supposed to be.
The defense had harassed rookie quarterback Andrew Luck through three quarters. They were getting constant pressure, especially from the interior of their defensive line, forcing Luck into making bad throws, as evidenced by the three interceptions the Lions had Sunday.
In order to fully understand the collapse, we have to look at the entire fourth quarter to see how it unfolded. Something changed as the Lions went from playing good defense and pressuring Luck to folding like a cheap tent in the blink of an eye.
The Indianapolis Colts ran 33 plays in the fourth quarter, passing on all but two of them. The Lions had to defend 31 pass plays in one quarter, and it took its toll as the Lions were physically dead by the end of the game. The defensive line literally disappeared in the game's waning minutes, exhausted from rushing the passer so often in such a short period of time.
Still, there were two plays that stood out more so than others for their breakdowns on the Lions defense, and these plays drove a dagger through Detroit's heart, essentially ending the team's already long-shot playoff hopes.
The Lions had a 12-point lead with 4:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Lions had just punted the ball, tackling Colts punt returner T.Y. Hilton at the Colts 15-yard line. To repeat, the Lions were up two scores with four minutes left in the game.
During the Colts next drive, the Lions allowed Luck to run the ball for a first down on a fourth-down play. Then defensive tackle Nick Fairley was called for a horse-collar tackle, a penalty that moved the ball to the Colts' 46-yard line. At the 3:16 mark, Lions cornerback Drayton Florence dropped an interception that would have sealed the game.
The first of the two critical plays happens with 2:47 remaining in the fourth quarter. Drayton Florence lines up outside on wide receiver LaVon Brazil, giving him a good 12-yard cushion. In the first picture, Florence gets caught peeking into the backfield and not watching Brazil running full speed at him.
Notice that Florence is standing with his hips closed at the Lions 27-yard line with Brazil in full sprint towards him. In the second picture, you can see that Florence has failed to flip his hips and run with Brazil. The picture shows both players at the Lions' 26-yard line, with Florence standing, still flailing at Brazil, trying to interfere with him, and Brazil just running by him.
Florence allows a player to get behind him when that is unquestionably the only thing he simply can’t allow. By the time Florence recovers, Brazil is wide open at the Lions 6-yard line with Florence trailing at the Lions 12-yard line. This is the Lions first colossal failure, and it leads to their loss. The Colts are now only down one score with the Lions need a first down to seal the game.
There are a bunch of breakdowns on the Colts final drive, starting with the Lions punting the ball out of bounds from the 50-yard line to the Colts 25-yard line. The Colts get the ball with 1:14 remaining and no timeouts.
Again, the defensive line is gassed, having just gotten off the field after rushing the passer eight times during the Colts eight-play drive that brought Indy to within a touchdown. Luck exposes the middle of the tired defense by scrambling with the ball twice, for a total of 25 yards. He also hits wide receiver Reggie Wayne for a 26-yard gain down to the Lions 40-yard line. Luck spikes the ball to stop the clock with 38 seconds remaining.
A 16-yard Luck scramble up the middle and a 10-yard pass to tight end Dwayne Allen takes the Colts down to the Lions' 14-yard line with 18 seconds left in the game.
The Lions stiffen a little, and safety Don Carey makes a terrific play in the back of the end zone, breaking up a pass intended for Reggie Wayne. On second down, Luck steps up into the pocket and unsuccessfully tries to hit Wayne again. On third down, the Lions get good pressure and force Luck to throw the ball out of the back of the end zone, with good coverage on the play by Lions cornerback Chris Houston.
This brings us to the Lions biggest failure and the Colts biggest accomplishment. With four seconds remaining, and the ball on the 14-yard line, Luck takes the shotgun snap.
The Lions rush their four defensive linemen, with their entire group of linebackers lined up at or near the 5-yard line. The Colts are five-wide, and they run four into the end zone, pushing the Lions defense back to defend. They drag wide receiver Donnie Avery across the line of scrimmage.
Luck feels pressure and steps up in the pocket, at the same time Avery is crossing in front of him. All three linebackers have taken a few steps back, with Durant sensing that Avery is running wide open. The problem is that Durant is playing on the right side, and Avery is running right to left.
DeAndre Levy, who is playing on the left side, bites hard on the in-route near the goal line and takes a few steps to his right, taking himself out of the play. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is covering tight end Dwayne Allen who runs the same route, taking Tulloch to his right.
The Colts run their outside wide receivers to the pylons, then to the back of the end zone, clearing out for Avery. The corners have their coverage and the safeties are helping over the top. The only player that has a chance to make a play is Durant, but he has too much ground to cover; he simply isn’t going to get there. The Colts executed, and the Lions did not.
It is that simple.
At the end of the day, it’s a combination of an extremely exhausted defensive line giving Luck time and a pocket to step into and the mix of poor execution by the Lions and a brilliant play-call (and execution) by the Colts.