One swing of Justin Tucker's right leg dealt a crippling and potentially fatal blow to the playoff hopes of the Detroit Lions.
Actually, make that six swings.
Tucker connected on all six of his field goals, including the game-winning 61-yarder with 38 seconds left, and the Lions again made crucial mistakes in a must-win game that ended in a 18-16 victory for the Baltimore Ravens Monday night in Detroit.
"This is a setback, no question," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said, via ESPN. "We had control and now we need help. We have to get two wins and let the rest shake out."
The Lions (7-7) came into the contest with a rather simple path to their first division title in two decades. Win their last three games, and it wouldn't matter what the surging Green Bay Packers (7-6-1) and Chicago Bears (8-6) did over the final two weeks of the season.
Instead, the now-third-place Lions might soon look back at Monday night's crushing defeat as the very moment a golden opportunity to win the NFC North and host a home playoff game came crumbling down. And the script will feel so familiar.
Detroit took two different leads over the Ravens, including a 7-0 edge to open the game and a 16-15 advantage with 2:27 left in the final period. But the pile of mistakes ended up being too much for the Lions to overcome.
Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions, two of which led to six Ravens points and a third that ended the game. The first was a deflected pass that took points off the board, and the last two were errant decisions plagued by poor mechanics.
Overall, Stafford finished the contest completing 18 of 34 passes for 235 yards, one touchdown and three picks—good for a passer rating of just 48.0. It was Stafford's lowest-rated game of the season.
|First Nine Games||Last Five Games|
|Stafford Passer Rating||94.1||69.2|
*First place in NFC North
Add in big penalties that aided two of Baltimore's scoring drives and three drops from Calvin Johnson—two that would have extended drives and another that cost Detroit two points—and the Lions couldn't prevent their fourth loss in five games.
"You can't trust the Detroit Lions because of games like this," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said afterward, via SportsCenter's Twitter account. "It was all there for them, and they threw up on themselves."
Now, both the Packers and Bears control their destinies in the NFC North.
Green Bay finishes its up-and-down season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers and on the road in Chicago. The Bears close out with the Philadelphia Eagles and Packers at home. Circle Week 17's showdown in Chicago as the game that will most likely determine the division champion.
If either the Packers or Bears finishes 2-0, that team will win the NFC North. Anything the Lions did over the final two games would become a moot point.
Less than a month and a half ago, such a scenario looked most improbable.
The Packers had just lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers and were about to embark on a five-game stretch without a win. The Bears were holding on for dear life without Jay Cutler and a laundry list of key defensive players. Detroit, on the other hand, was a healthy 6-3.
Lions had division lead and weeks where GB without Aaron Rodgers and Chic without Jay Cutler and now they're third in NFC North.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 17, 2013
By all accounts, the Lions should have run away with a division that was set up perfectly for them to win.
But then the Steelers took over the second half in Week 11, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the Lions in Detroit a week later. Since a stabilizing win on Thanksgiving, the Lions have lost a blizzard game in Philadelphia and Monday's night disaster.
The 1-4 stretch has robbed Detroit of everything it should have at this point in the season.
Looking for blame? Start with Stafford and a turnover-happy offense.
Since beating the Bears on Nov. 10, Stafford has rattled off the following five passer ratings: 74.7 (loss), 61.6 (loss), 98.5 (win), 60.6 (loss) and 48.0 (loss). Over that same five-game stretch, Stafford has four games completing less than 60 percent of his passes and 10 total interceptions.
*Detroit's lone win
Keep in mind, Stafford started his season with nine straight games with a passer rating over 80.0. His total passer rating since is just 69.2. Stafford's been right in the thick of Detroit's collapse.
“We just let them get away," Johnson said, via Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News. "You can’t lay all the blame on (Stafford). It’s on us, it’s everybody.”
As a team, the Lions extended their streak with three or more turnovers to five games (18 total giveaways).
Monday night's crippling blow will be difficult to overcome for this underachieving bunch.
Few will doubt that Detroit is one of the NFL's most talented teams. There is a young franchise quarterback in place, plus the game's best receiver, a dynamic pair of running backs and the game's most disruptive defensive line.
However, the same demons—penalties, turnovers and maddening inconsistency—continue to plague this franchise, and it now appears that another promising season will go to waste because of those familiar ills.
The volatile NFC North now belongs in the hands of Chicago and Green Bay.
Almost unbelievably, the possibility exists for the Lions to be a non-factor in the division race over the final two weeks. The past five games have been some kind of collapse, even by Detroit's relatively high standards.