The Lions headed into this years’ Thanksgiving Day Classic having not won on this holiday since 2003. They were playing the 9-1 Houston Texans, which did not bode well. Both teams were banged up, as are many teams in the NFL at this point, but the Lions were getting back Louis Delmas, which was good, because Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was coming off a game where he had thrown for over 500 yards. Could the Lions pull off the upset they almost managed last week against the Packers? Or would they fall to 4-7 and become right and truly and afterthought this season?
Both teams took a little while to get going, but the Lions got on the board first with a 2-yard Mikel Leshoure touchdown. However, the Texans tied things up in the second quarter with a 6-yard run from Arian Foster. This was followed by Mike Thomas’ first touchdown as a Detroit Lion, as he caught a 5-yard pass from Matthew Stafford. Houston countered with a 9-yard pass from Schaub to Owen Daniels. Shortly thereafter, Stafford and Calvin Johnson connected for a 22-yard score. At the half, it was 21-14. I imagine it was quite exciting for the neutral fan, and Lions fans had to be pretty pleased as well. They were beating the favorites at the half by a full touchdown, and their offense was looking good even without Jeff Backus and Titus Young, not to mention Jahvid Best and Nate Burleson.
In the third quarter, Jason Hanson kicked a 46-yard field goal to make it 24-14. The next score is deserving of its own paragraph or two, if not its own polemic directing at the clowns running the NFL (what a bunch of clowns).
Justin Forsett had a nice little run for the Texans. Then, he was tackled. His arm was down, his knee was down, but the whistle did not sound and the play was allowed to continue, to Forsett, wisely, scampered to the end zone where the play was called a touchdown. He was fairly clearly down, and surely one of the several refs on the field should have seen this, but they didn’t. Not a huge deal, that’s why we have replay. Furthermore, the NFL recently made it a rule that all scoring plays are automatically reviewed. This is a good rule the NFL has.
However, in the heat of the moment, Coach Schwartz still threw the challenge flag, even though it was not necessary. This is, evidently, a penalty. That’s kind of odd, but in the abstract not unreasonable. It is a 15-yard penalty. That is a bit much, and in and of itself would be one of the dumber rules in the NFL. It also rendered the play non-reviewable, so a clear non-touchdown was allowed to stand. This was the dumbest thing I have ever seen in all my years watching professional sports.
A lot of folks, myself included admittedly, did not realize the NFL had adopted this completely idiotic rule. If we had, I imagine we would have been complaining about it before this. It is so incredibly stupid words escape me to describe it. How is throwing a challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewed worthy of a 15-yard penalty and the lack of the ability to have the played reviewed. The NFL is genuinely saying they would rather have a play that everybody knows was ruled incorrectly stand than have a coach throw a flag when they aren’t supposed to. It is so excessive, so moronic, I can’t believe a professional sports league has a rule like this. Especially since these plays being automatically reviewed is still pretty new.
If you want to give a team a 5-yard delay of game penalty, I could see that. That would be sensible. This rule is unbelievably dumb, however. It’s like handing out a life sentence for jaywalking. I really hope the league changes this rule. Good thing Roger Goodell hasn’t shown himself to be a draconian, heavy handed buffoon as a commissioner. Anyway, Forsett got the most ridiculous 81-yard touchdown ever, and Coach Schwartz got a bum wrap for a minor mistake.
Anyway, later in the third quarter, the Texans kicked a field goal to tie the game at 24 all. Early in the fourth, Joique Bell broke off a 23-yard touchdown rush to give the Lions the lead. They held that lead late into the game. Of course, that was the case last week and they ended up losing it. Guess what happened this week? Yep, Foster rushed for a 1-yard score and the game was tied. We were headed to overtime.
Overtime was its own brand of absurd. The Lions got the ball, and they were driving, and Stafford hit Brandon Pettigrew with a pass. Then Pettigrew, with his awful hands, fumbled and the Texans recovered. They drove into scoring range, then, as coaches often do, got foolishly conservative, leaving their kicker with a long kick. He ended up barely missing it. The Lions had to punt, Schaub threw an interception. Then, the Lions were driving, and Coach Schwartz decided to pick up a trick from Houston’s coach Gary Kubiak.
The Lions ran the ball to make it second and eight. So, they ran it again and lost yardage to make it third and 11. Then, inexplicably, Schwartz decided to have Hanson kick it, even though it was from 47 yards. That is far from a gimme, and they had a whole down to work with. It made no sense. Hanson ended up hitting the upright. If you want to disparage Schwartz for any of his decisions in this game, make it that one. Houston got the ball, they made some big plays, and then they kicked a field goal. The Lions lost 34-31 in overtime.
This is a tough loss. Some might want to point to that idiotic ruling, but there is no way of knowing how the game would have transpired if not for that call. Detroit had plenty of chances and they did not make the most of them. Stafford took multiple sacks that drove them out of field goal range. They could stop the Texans on key drives. Pettigrew fumbled. Then, there were Schwartz’s coaching errors. The playcalling on that Hanson field goal miss was dumb. He wasted multiple time outs on icing the kicker, which is always pointless. Neither coach will want to put this game on their highlight reel. When Grantland’s Bill Barnwell is writing up this week’s games, I expect to see both Schwartz and Kubiak in the “Thank You For Not Coaching” section.
Both teams had big games on offense, putting up over 500 yards of total offense each. Stafford threw for 441 yards and two touchdowns, but he only completed 31 of his 61 passes. That is barely over 50 percent, and that is not good. The Lions didn’t do much running the ball, while Foster rushed for over 100 yards for the Texans. Johnson had a big game for Detroit, catching eight passes for 140 yards. Ryan Broyles had a big game as well with six receptions for 126 yards. Meanwhile, Andre Johnson had nine catches for 188 yards. On defense, J.J. Watt had three sacks, four tackles for loss, and two passes defensed for Houston. He is very good. Cliff Avril had two sacks.
So now, the Lions are 4-7, and nobody will mention them in the playoff race again. This is not a bad team, however. They certainly have talent, even though they’ve had a lot of injuries. They have been competitive in every game. Look at some of the teams they’ve lost to. The Texans, the Bears, the Packers, the 49ers, the Titans. OK, so that last team isn’t good, but Detroit has faced a tough schedule thus far. The only real issue has been they blew that Titans game and the Vikings turned out to be tougher than many thought. If the Lions had merely won in Tennessee and won that home game against Minnesota with the two return touchdowns, they’d be 6-5 and in the thick of things. They didn’t of course, just like the NFL didn’t decide to make sure all their rules made sense, and just like Coach Schwartz didn’t make good decisions in overtime. Detroit suffered a bitter loss on Thanksgiving. I, for one, will give thanks once the NFL decides to rework their rulebook a bit.