The Detroit Lions have a gripe for a few missed calls in their 42-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, just as they did following a playoff loss in this same building two years ago. But that was ancient history, just as Monday’s loss should be by the time the Lions land back in Detroit.
They have a second chance this time around. They have to get ready for the massive showdown at Ford Field with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.
Monday night’s loss means the Lions are not yet in the playoffs, and a loss to the Packers could knock them out entirely. But a win could give the heart-attack Lions a division title and a home playoff game, the latter of which they have not had since Jan. 8, 1994. That’s what matters. That’s what’s at stake. Whining about referees does the Lions no good at this point.
Did a few calls go against them Monday? Yes — Dez Bryant was guilty of an uncalled facemask on the first of his three touchdowns, Cowboys guard Zack Martin got away with a clear hold (a tackle, really) on Ezekiel Elliott’s second rushing TD, and Lions defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson was called for a very questionable unnecessary roughness call on the drive where the Cowboys put the game away.
That was the drive that was capped with a gorgeous trick play — and with apologies to Dontari Poe, the prettiest we’ve seen in a while — when Bryant took a reverse and threw his first career touchdown pass to Jason Witten. That made it 35-21 Cowboys, and Bryant’s third TD accounted for in the game on the next series put it away for good.
The Lions went from in control of the game in the first half to getting blown out. But that doesn’t matter. Nor does the wild few minutes of the Cowboys’ playoff game in January 2015 in which a flag was inexplicably picked up, Bryant easily could have been called for unsportsmanlike conduct and a blatant hold on former Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was missed.
There is no conspiracy against the Lions in Dallas. These were just coincidentally missed calls. After all, on Monday, the Lions appeared to benefit from a strange error in procedure when the referees initially ruled Lions QB Matthew Stafford down on fourth-and-goal from the Dallas 1-yard line before they huddled and said he scored — and that was before it went to replay, which confirmed the TD.
It was an odd sequence and an odd game, which was evenly played in the first half when a shorthanded Cowboys defense was having trouble slowing down the Lions. But all that came crashing down with a miserable second half for Detroit as the Cowboys cranked up the volume.
That’s two straight double-digit losses to playoff teams for the Lions after their first four losses of the season were by a combined 17 points. The wheels haven’t come off completely, but they are teetering and wobbling.
The Packers spent Sunday and Monday prepping for their NFC North showdown with the Lions while the Lions were still worrying about the Cowboys. So in this short week, Detroit has to find a way to stanch the bleeding and focus on finding a way to slow down the white-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Having cornerback Darius Slay, who was hurt Monday and might have singled up on Bryant all night, might be nice in any game plan that hopes to slow down Jordy Nelson.
The Lions looked sharp early offensively, as Stafford had some strong moments, as did Zach Zenner. The latter was stunning because the Lions had rushed for a total of five touchdowns coming into the game, but Zenner crammed in two scores in his best career game before the Cowboys took over the game.
In order to beat the Packers, the Lions must have Stafford play the way he did in the first half and not the second, in which he threw an awful interception on a second-and-31. They also could use the Zenner that showed up in Dallas and the defense that did not. The Lions barely pressured Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw for three touchdowns and picked apart the secondary like Christmas leftovers. On top of that, Elliott wore down a few stacked boxes. It wasn’t pretty.
Can the Lions hang on and avoid a total collapse in a season in which they led the Packers by 2.5 games on Thanksgiving Day? It’s feeling dicey right now, but all that matters is Sunday night.
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