New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: Takeaways from Detroit's 23-20 Loss
Detroit came out flat in the first half before rebounding with a great second-half effort. However, poor execution and an untimely turnover cost the Lions in the end.
The Lions' playoff hopes are now officially over, a stunning fall from a 6-3 start to the season. Detroit now sits at 7-8 and faces major questions as the season concludes. Chief among those is the fate of coach Jim Schwartz.
Detroit finishes the season with a trip to Minnesota. It will be the last game ever at the Metrodome, which will either prove inspirational or maudlin. It's a meaningless game for both teams.
Here are the initial takeaways from the brutal loss.
The Decline of Matthew Stafford Continues
To further illustrate his apparent insulation from culpability, chew on this tweet from his beautiful girlfriend Kelly Hall:
You wouldn't even know we were playing at home the way these fans are booing our home team. #unbelievable— Kelly Hall (@kellybhall) December 22, 2013
She doesn't get it either, and that doesn't make any epiphany by Stafford seem very likely any time soon.
At minimum, Stafford needs a quarterback coach with real power and influence to try to fix all that is wrong with him. Beyond that, he needs a head coach to hold him responsible for bad outings like this one. The accountability just isn't there, not for Stafford or Jim Schwartz.
The 3rd-Down Defense Struggled Early
Detroit entered the game as the stingiest third-down defense in the league.
Per Team Rankings, this is how the teams ranked entering Week 16 on third-down defense:
Yet on New York's first offensive possession, the Giants converted three times on third down before stalling.
Poor awareness in coverage led to the Giants converting a 3rd-and-13 on their second scoring drive. New York picked up another with a pass to Rueben Randle on that drive as well.
New York finished the first half 5-of-8 on third downs. The lack of any semblance of a pass rush played a huge factor in that poor performance.
The Lions defense deserves a lot of credit for flipping the script in the second half. New York converted just one third down out of nine attempts following halftime.
Detroit Came Out Flat on Multiple Levels
The first half of the game was astonishing in its lack of energy. Detroit came out flat, both on the field and in the Ford Field stands.
The Lions were lackluster right off the bat, punting on their first drive and allowing the Giants to score a field goal on their first opportunity.
Matthew Stafford was not sharp. The defensive line did nothing at all in the early going. Two first-half turnovers would normally serve to help quiet the home crowd...except the home crowd was already silent.
For a game of such importance, the Lions fans were anxious and quiet instead of raucous and inspirational. As Detroit News writer Josh Katzenstein noted early in the second half:
Joique Bell trying really hard to pump up a pretty dead crowd.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) December 22, 2013
Even when Detroit took the game by storm in the third and early fourth quarters, it was still one of the quieter crowds in recent seasons in Ford Field.
Perhaps the fans were conflicted; their desire for coach Jim Schwartz to be fired and for an incredibly frustrating season to end trumped any remaining, distant playoff hopes.
The Injury Bug Bit Late
After spending most of the season as one of the healthier teams in the league, Detroit felt the wrath of the injury bug.
Both starting corners and the starting tight end all missed the game with injuries.
Detroit's depth was severely tested, particularly in the secondary. It's tough to rely upon unproven youngsters at any time in a season, but in such a must-win situation, it really put the Lions at a disadvantage.
There were some positive moments for Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood and Joseph Fauria, the primary replacements for the missing starters. Fauria in particular showed that he deserves strong consideration for an expanded role in 2014.
Yet the veterans were missed, especially early in the game.
Worse yet, starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle left the game early with an ankle injury. The Lions also got precious little from reserve defensive end Israel Idonije, as noted by DetroitLions.com writer Tim Twentyman:
For a team that had largely avoided the injury bug all year, it sure bit hard for the New York game.
Joique Bell Deserves a Medal
On a day where fellow running back Reggie Bush was lousy and the crowd tame, Joique Bell valiantly tried to carry his team to victory.
Bell almost single-handedly carried the offense in the critical third quarter. He was the spark, the kindling, the oxygen and the lighter fluid for the moribund Detroit offense.
He finished with 91 yards on 20 carries, including a touchdown. Bell was also Detroit's leading receiver, catching all 10 passes thrown his way for 63 more yards.
Beyond the numbers, Bell was the one Lion who played like his life depended on the outcome. He desperately sought to rally the crowd with inspired effort.
The football world noticed:
I know this: Joique Bell wants to win this game. Not sure about anyone else.— Ty Schalter (@tyschalter) December 22, 2013
Joique Bell cares. A lot.— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) December 22, 2013
Here's hoping that the Lions recognize his spirit and reward him with a new contract this offseason.
A Tale of 2 Halves
It was the worst of times. The first half against New York was the Dickensian version of "same old Lions," long, overwrought and slightly troubling.
At halftime, the Lions trailed 13-3. They left the field to a cascade of boos that could be heard from London to Paris. Madame Defarge was busy feverishly knitting names of Detroit culprits.
Yet in the second half, the Lions finally started to live up to their great expectations. Nick Fairley went from first-half Pip to second-half stud. The bleak house took a decided twist thanks to the hefty defensive tackle's outstanding second stanza:
Fairley with the hit that caused the fumble. Played really well in the second half. Willie Young recovered.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 23, 2013
The Lions defense created some hard times for the Giants, allowing just one first down in the second half.
If only the Lions could string together two halves of strong play on a consistent basis, Detroit would be celebrating a NFC North title by now.
Is That the End of the Jim Schwartz Era in Detroit?
With the loss, the vultures circling over coach Jim Schwartz's head swooped down lower. They smell the inevitable and wait, lurking with ominous black wings spread wide.
There is no official word on Schwartz's fate, nor will there be before this disappointing season comes to an end in Minnesota next Sunday. That's not how the Lions do business.
Regardless, most folks believe this was the last time that Jim Schwartz coaches the Lions at home. As Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated noted before the game:
No idea how Detroit will move forward, but I'll say this: I heard Bill O'Brien's name a lot at Ford Field last night.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) December 17, 2013
That came on the heels of a somewhat underexposed report about owner Bill Ford Jr. wanting to ax Schwartz after last season's abysmal 4-12 finish. MLive's Justin Rogers' angle on that story highlights the ambiguity at play here.
There is no doubt that Lions fans want Schwartz fed to the hyenas. It's hard to blame them.