Kurt Warner said something interesting about Matthew Stafford last week that resonated Sunday: That he’s one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, but hasn’t been able to get over the hump because the Lions organization has asked far too much of him far too long. Stafford had a better game than the numbers indicate, completing 24 of 42 passes for 297 yards. He threw one touchdown, but would have had another had D’Andre Swift not dropped the potential game-winner. He missed a few other throws when it appeared rookie receiver Quintez Cephus wasn’t on the same page, something that will come in time. Stafford made one mistake late, trying to squeeze a ball into double coverage to Marvin Jones. His pass ricocheted off an arm and into Kyler Fuller’s hands for an interception, which ultimately led to the game-winning Bears touchdown. A case of trying to do too much, perhaps, based on everything he’s had to endure the past 12 years.
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Kerryon Johnson started, but Adrian Peterson was far and away the Lions’ most effective running back. Peterson took advantage of a Bears defense that played two deep safeties most of the game and ran for 93 yards on 14 carries. At 35 years old, he still has the vision that made him special. Johnson had a limited impact with 14 yards on seven carries and might not stay in this rotation long. Swift played as a two-minute back Sunday, scoring on a 1-yard run just before halftime. The Lions like him in part for his pass-catching prowess, but he had two drops, including one in the waning seconds that would have given the Lions the lead. That’s a crucial mistake at a time of the game that’s impossible to come back from.
Wide receivers/tight ends
Kenny Golladay’s presence was sorely missed Sunday. Marvin Jones had four catches for a modest 55 yards and Cephus, Golladay’s replacement, caught just three of the 10 passes thrown his way. Cephus had one first-quarter drop and missed a block when Peterson was stopped on a third-and-1 run in the second quarter. Playing without his deep threat, T.J. Hockenson became Stafford’s No. 1 target. Hockenson had five catches for 56 yards and used his body well to wall of Tashaun Gipson for a third-quarter touchdown. On the downside, he did miss a block when Johnson was thrown for a 2-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
For having two new starters on their line, including a fill-in right tackle, the Lions did a good job protecting Stafford and opening holes for their running game. The lone sack the Lions allowed will go on rookie right guard Jonah Jackson’s ledger, but Stafford should have got rid of the ball, and not doing so cost the Lions valuable field position. Tyrell Crosby had two holding penalties, one of which was offset by a defensive holding call in the fourth quarter, but he settled in after an uneasy start. Frank Ragnow had a nice block on Peterson’s 21-yard run, and led a solid run-blocking effort overall as the Lions averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
New year, same story for the Lions defense, which failed to get much meaningful pressure on Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trey Flowers had the Lions’ only sack, which came when Trubisky spun the wrong way out of pressure. Flowers forced a fumble that the Bears recovered on the play and had six tackles overall. Romeo Okwara had a costly face mask penalty, when he let Trubisky go for a 20-yard scramble. Flowers was the only defensive lineman credited with a quarterback hit, and the Lions had no answers for a Bears running game that totaled 149 yards.
Those struggled against the run aren’t all on the line, of course. Jamie Collins, the Lions’ best linebacker, got ejected from the game in the first half when he bumped referee Alex Kemp with his helmet while trying to demonstrate how Bears running back David Montgomery was lowering his head. He appeared to overrun a tackle on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 13-yard gain in the first quarter, and his replacement, Jahlani Tavai couldn’t get off a block on Tarik Cohen’s 16-yard run. Christian Jones seemed to be around the ball on every play the first few drives, but finished with just one tackle.
There’s no reason for the Lions to bring Tracy Walker off the bench. Walker gave up a jump-ball touchdown to Jimmy Graham, but along with Flowers was the Lions’ best player on defense. He had a team-high seven tackles, including two for loss, and he made a leaping pass breakup at the goal line in the fourth quarter. The Lions played much of the game without three of their top four cornerbacks as Jeff Okudah did not dress and Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant left with hamstring injuries. Coleman had tight coverage on Allen Robinson in the end zone to force an incomplete pass on an early Bears field goal drive. Duron Harmon forced an incomplete pass after Collins’ ejection with a timely blitz, but Coleman dropped a would-be tipped ball interception on the next play. Amani Oruwariye got beat for the game-winning touchdown, while fill-in Darryl Roberts had some nice moments in coverage.
Matt Prater made field goals of 27, 32 and 44 yards, but he missed a 55-yarder wide right that gave the Bears good field position for their final drive. Prater’s miss aside, the Lions did a solid job on special teams. Jack Fox rocked a 55-yard punt just before halftime and had three touchbacks on kickoffs, Jamal Agnew nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown and Tony McRae had a big hit on Cohen when he beat his jammer of the line of scrimmage on a first quarter punt. The Lions did allow too much pressure on Fox’s 35-yard punt, which came at a crucial point in the game.
Matt Patricia scoffed at a suggestion that his coaching has been a major factor in the Lions’ late-game collapses the last few years, pointing out that he was the defensive coordinator for “probably one of the biggest plays in the fourth quarter in the history of the NFL” in the Super Bowl a few years ago. That Malcolm Butler interception aside, Patricia’s decision to attempt a 55-yard field goal rather than punt and pin the Bears deep was a major factor in Sunday’s loss. I give the Lions a bit of a pass for their red-zone struggles early considering it was Week 1 coming off a preseason with no games, but I would have liked to see them run the ball more effectively in the fourth quarter. Darrell Bevell drew up a well-designed pass to Hockenson to jumpstart the two-minute offense, but outside of two drives, the offense was not consistent enough.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions grades: Late-game coaching contribute to loss to Bears