Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Takeaways from Lions' Snowy Loss
The overriding story was the weather. Several inches of snow fell throughout the game, blanketing the field with a deep sheet of white. Both teams battled the elements as much as the other for most of the game.
For three quarters, the Lions handled the conditions as capably as the Eagles. The fourth quarter, however, may very well live in blustery infamy for Detroit fans.
The Lions now stand at 7-6, somehow still in first place in the NFC North. Up next is a Monday Night Football date hosting the Baltimore Ravens, who beat the Minnesota Vikings in a 29-26 thriller. The Ravens are also 7-6 and fighting for their playoff lives.
Here are the initial takeaways from the loss...
Detroit Had to Battle the Elements
The snow was unrelenting. When the on-location pregame show began at 11:30 a.m. ET, just 90 minutes before kickoff, not a single flurry had fallen from the sky.
By 1 p.m. ET, the field was covered with heavy, wet snow. It was coming down so hard that the radio broadcast indicated it could not see the opposite side of the field on the Lions' first drive.
Being a team that plays at home inside a dome, the Lions did as expected. They struggled in the slippery, deep snow.
Stafford also struggled to throw the ball with any accuracy:
That Stafford throw was the definition of a dying quail.— Andrew Garda (@Andrew_Garda) December 8, 2013
Sadly, that tweet could have referenced multiple Stafford efforts down the field in this game.
It was so problematic that the Lions only attempted one extra point, which was blocked.
It's worth noting that the Eagles struggled as well in the same conditions, but as the game bore on, the home team acclimated better. The visitors were plowed under. Fortunately the Lions will not play outdoors again during the regular season, hosting Baltimore and the New York Giants before traveling to the comfort of the great indoors in Minnesota in the finale.
Jeremy Ross Strikes Again
It was a happy Thanksgiving for Jeremy Ross, extracting revenge on a Green Bay Packers team that dumped him earlier in the season.
Ross kept his good tidings and great joy flowing into Philadelphia. His 58-yard punt return in the third quarter lifted the Lions to a 14-0 lead.
It was the first punt return for a touchdown for the Lions in 147 games, according to the Fox broadcast.
He was not done, either. After the Eagles tied the game at 14 early in the fourth quarter, Ross returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for another touchdown.
That made him the first Lion since Eddie Payton to have both a punt and kick return for a touchdown in the same game. Payton did that on Dec. 17, 1977, against the Vikings, per the Fox broadcast.
He came close to breaking another one before being corralled up the left sideline past the Detroit 40-yard line.
Ross continues to cement his grasp on the return specialist position. Getting a spark from such an unexpected source is a very welcome addition for the Lions going forward.
Matthew Stafford Is Not a Mudder
It was an ugly afternoon for quarterback Matthew Stafford. He looked very much like a player from Texas by way of Georgia, as the snow and cold reduced him to an error-prone mess.
Stafford finished 10-of-25 for 148 yards. He was a somewhat promising 6-of-12 for 87 yards in the first half, but he was cold as ice after intermission.
Stafford really struggled to throw the ball with any accuracy.
And then there were the fumbles—five of them, which amazingly only resulted in one turnover. Unfortunately, that turnover came at the worst possible time, vanquishing any realistic hopes for a stirring comeback.
Here's hoping the Lions do not have to play in the snow or cold again this season, because the quarterback does not handle it very well.
Ed Hochuli Should Be Ashamed
This game violently pivoted on two plays early in the fourth quarter. Both plays were astonishingly inept penalty calls by referee Ed Hochuli.
His first infraction against officiating came on a fairly innocuous pass play. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw the ball, and Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley ran into his midsection just after Foles released it.
The contact was not violent, not in the least. Even the Philadelphia media thought the hit was perfectly clean:
Terrible call on roughing the passer. I'll take the gift, but that looked like a good hit by Fairley.— Tommy Lawlor (@lawlornfl) December 8, 2013
The national media saw it the same way:
Nick (un)Fairley penalized, leads to Eagles touchdown..— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) December 8, 2013
Yet Hochuli threw the flag anyway. It's worth noting he was standing directly behind Foles and could not see Fairley's point of impact, meaning he compounded his own error of positioning by making a hasty and obviously incorrect call.
After the Eagles scored as a direct result of that call, Hochuli further cemented his ineptitude. On the Eagles' two-point conversion attempt, he flagged Ndamukong Suh for a holding penalty.
As bad as the call on Fairley was, this was infinitely worse. Suh was being held by center Jason Kelce as he tried to extend his arms to deflect the pass.
The Fox broadcasting crew was openly laughing at the call, trying to find any validity or merit to the flag. Former vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, who also found the call on Fairley bogus, was similarly flabbergasted:
The hold on the 2-pt conversion in PHI is a mystery to me - didnt see anything that could be called— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 8, 2013
Hochuli might be one of the most celebrated officials in NFL history, but he had a very bad game in Philadelphia.
About That Run Defense...
I extrapolated this particular takeaway into a full-blown column, but it bears re-emphasizing here as well.
The Detroit run defense vanished into the snow. Maybe it was the white jerseys, as they apparently could not see one another very well. This tweet from MLive beat writer Justin Rogers comes from LeSean McCoy's second touchdown run:
Levy ran into Fairley, Tulloch ran into Suh, Delmas ran into Bentley. That was pretty brutal.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 8, 2013
What had looked so good in recent weeks looked so bad in Philadelphia. The line was easily moved out of the way, while the back seven was ineffective (to be charitable) at tackling.
LeSean McCoy and the Eagles offensive line do deserve the lion's share of credit. They played determined, near-flawless football in the latter stages of the game. But Detroit offered meek resistance, a sad showing by a proud unit.
It's premature to know if this game was an aberration or an emerging trend. If the Lions cannot remedy the run defense quickly, their playoff dreams will fade into a long winter's nightmare.
Rashean Mathis Played Very Well
On a day with few defensive performances worth lauding, cornerback Rashean Mathis stood out.
Mathis was exceptional in the early going. On Philadelphia's first drive, the hirsute veteran blanketed receiver Riley Cooper on a third-down pass, forcing an errant throw and a punt.
On the next drive, Mathis broke up a pass. He did the same on the subsequent Eagles drive as well, and all of those drives resulted in three-and-outs for the defense.
He wasn't perfect; a missed arm tackle on one of McCoy's long runs pulled him back from an exemplary effort. Also, he was beaten over the top on a long pass to Riley Cooper that fell to the snowy turf.
Still, Mathis was very solid in coverage throughout the game. His impact on the game was greater than his one solo tackle and two passes defended in the box score show.
He also stood out in the postgame press session, as noted by MLive's Kyle Meinke:
Big ups for guys like Rashean Mathis and Nate Burleson, who always represent the team well, even when answering for others' mistakes.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) December 8, 2013
This team needs as much positive leadership as it can get right now in order to salvage the season.
Oh, the Turnovers!
Unfortunately, this takeaway is becoming a weekly fixture for the Lions. This team cannot continue to turn the ball over at such an alarming rate.
This week's three giveaways extend a very disturbing trend.
That is 20 turnovers in the last six weeks. With 28 giveaways on the year, the Lions now rank 31st in that dubious statistic. That total through this game keeps them chasing only the New York Giants, according to this chart from ESPN (not updated to include Sunday's game as of press time).
It's understandable to have some ball-security issues in the snow. After all, the Lions are an indoor team. Yet seven fumbles is simply inexcusable.
The most egregious of the turnovers was the errant snap from Dominic Raiola, which Matthew Stafford never anticipated. Instead of cutting losses, Stafford compounded the error by vainly trying to pick up the ball instead of just flopping on it.
When linebacker Mychal Kendricks fell on the loose ball, for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
The Lions are clearly not good enough to overcome their own repeated errors. Ball-security issues continue to remain a major thorn in the paw.
Detroit Remains in 1st Place
It's easy to forget the good news of the day. The Detroit Lions remain in first place in the NFC North.
Even though the Green Bay Packers edged the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions still hold the advantage in the division.
|Green Bay Packers||6-6-1|
The Bears play Monday night against the 7-5 Dallas Cowboys.
This loss did not kill Detroit's playoff chances. It simply removed any margin for error the Lions had built up.
Remember, Detroit swept the Bears in their season series. That means the Bears would have to pass the Lions in the win column in order to surpass Detroit.
Also, Green Bay and Chicago play one another in Week 17. That is a guaranteed loss for one of those two pursuers. The Lions finish with the Vikings, whom they smoked in Week 1.
Coach Jim Schwartz will no doubt play up this angle. His team remains the hunted, not the hunter. But the predators are zeroing in, and the Lions cannot afford another false step.