Lions’ Den: Detroit squanders playoff chances in loss to Bengals

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The Detroit Lions are now out of playoff contention after a 26-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon. The loss comes to a Bengals team that had already lost nine games going into their Week 16 matchup.

The two teams got off to a slow start offensively, as the first five drives of the game ended in punts. However, the Lions drew first blood. Starting on their own 48-yard line, quarterback Matthew Stafford worked his way to the Cincinnati 33-yard line with a few short passes. Stafford then slung a long 33-yard pass to tight end Eric Ebron to find the endzone, putting the Lions up in the first quarter.

The Bengals responded with a 10-play drive lasting over five minutes. Starting on their own 12-yard line, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed a short pass to receiver Brandon LaFell for a loss of two yards. After that, Dalton strung together nine straight plays all resulting in gains for the Bengals’ offense, putting them on the Lions’ 45-yard line to end the first quarter.

In the opening play of the second quarter, Dalton threw a deep pass intended for receiver AJ Green, but it was intercepted by Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs, his third pick of the season.

After a three-and-out drive by the Lions’ offense, the Bengals responded to the interception with their first score of the game. After an 11-play drive, kicker Randy Bullock nailed a field goal from 29 yards away to give the Bengals their first three points of the game.

With under two minutes left in the second quarter the Lions had the ball on their own 45-yard line after two straight completions from Stafford to Ebron and receiver Kenny Golladay. On the third play of the drive, Stafford threw a short pass up the middle that was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey to give the Bengals the ball back on their own 47-yard line.

Dalton was able to work his offense into field-goal range with the clock winding down in the first half. With just seconds left on the clock, Bullock drilled his second field goal of the game to make the score 7-6 in favor of the Lions to end the first half.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah kicked off the second half with a 29-yard punt return which propelled an 11-play drive that lasted over five minutes. After nine straight plays for gains, the Lions wound up on the Cincinnati five-yard line. But after failing to reach the end zone, kicker Matt Prater nailed a 23-yard field goal to put the Lions up 10-6.

This is where the Lions started hurting themselves.

On the Bengals’ next drive, defensive pass interference was called on Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson, a 25-yard penalty that put the Bengals on their own 48-yard line. The next play, Dalton completed a 34-yard pass to running back Brian Hill to bring them to the Detroit 18-yard line. Four plays later, the Bengals would reach the end zone for the first time of the game thanks to a 1-yard pass to tight end CJ Uzomah, giving the Bengals their first lead of the game.

The Lions went for a 44-yard drive to move them to the Bengals’ 32-yard line. This set up a 50-yard field goal try for Prater, who had nailed seven of his previous nine attempts from 50 or more yards this season, to potentially tie the game at 13 a piece. Prater’s kick was short, leaving the score at 13-10.

The Bengals went on to score again off of a 11-play drive. Their points came off of another field goal from Bullock to put them up 16-10 early in the fourth quarter.

On the next drive of the game, the Lions were gifted with a bit of luck. Stafford decided to go for it on fourth-and-one, but a false start was called on guard Don Barclay, moving the offense back five yards, forcing the Lions to punt. Fortunately for the Lions, Bengals’ defensive end Jordan Willis made contact with Lions punter Sam Martin after the play, a five-yard penalty to make it fourth down and one  again.

The Lions offense decided to go for the first down again. Running back Tion Green ran for a gain of 12 yards to put them on the Bengals’ 34-yard line. Two plays later, Stafford connected with Ebron down the middle for a gain of 29 yards. The next play, Green ran it into the endzone for a Lions touchdown. After Prater kicked the extra point, Detroit took a 17-16 lead.

It was all Cincinnati from there on out. With just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were able to string together an 11-play drive to kill over five minutes off the clock. Bullock added to his big day in dramatic fashion, nailing a 51-yard field goal attempt to put the Bengals on top 19-17.

Stafford did his best to string together a big drive for his team, but was unable to move the Lions’ offense down the field. His only completion on the drive was to receiver Golden Tate for a loss of three yards. On that drive, Stafford threw a deep pass to Tate that was ruled incomplete.

It appeared that Tate had came down with the ball, but it was ruled incomplete after Cincinnati defenders knocked it out of his hands while Tate was on the ground. Head coach Jim Caldwell decided not to challenge the call and not risk wasting a timeout with four minutes left in the game. The Lions were forced to punt.

On the Bengals’ next drive, they were able to draw Lions tackle A’Shawn Robinson offsides to gain five yards. After that, Cincinnati let running back Giovani Bernard take charge. After a two-yard run by Bernard, the Lions were forced to waste their first time out of the half. Bernard was able to run down the clock even more, and force the Lions to spend their remaining timeouts.

Bernard added some insurance to Cincy’s lead with a 12-yard touchdown run, making it a two-score game with less than two minutes to go.

This is probably one of the toughest pills Lions fans have swallowed in recent memory. If the Lions would have won their contest against the Bengals, their playoff hopes would still be alive. Atlanta was defeated by New Orleans on Sunday, bringing their record to 9-6. If the Lions would have won, all it would have taken for the Lions to clinch a wild-card spot was a Falcons loss to the 11-4 Carolina Panthers  and a Lions win against a Packers team without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

With the Lions squandering their playoff chances, Caldwell’s job security as head coach seems to be very uncertain. Detroit’s home matchup with Green Bay will take place next Sunday, Dec. 31 and kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST.

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