Detroit – In the immediate aftermath of the sudden and stunning 27-24 loss to the Bengals Sunday, there seemed to be a healthy mixture of anger, pain and resolve among the Lions players.
“We should be (peeved),” center Dominic Raiola said. “Healing already? This should hurt. As much as a win feels good, this should hurt. There are no moral victories here. We are beyond that. We are too good a team to say, ‘Oh man, we were close.’
“We are too good a team to do that.”
In the end, it was a no-call, a botched punt and a 54-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent that sent the Lions (4-3) to their first home loss of the season.
“It’s a tough loss, a bitter loss,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “But we have to learn from it. We have to be able to do better next time we’re in that situation. There were two very good teams here and in the end they made one more play than we did.”
Before the sudden and bitter ending, it was a shootout between two young quarterbacks and two elite receivers. Bengals Andy Dalton (24 for 34, 372 yards) and Lions Matthew Stafford (28 for 51, 357 yards) each threw for three touchdowns.
Lions’ Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson had nine catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. When he hauled in Stafford’s 50-yard bomb between three defenders with 12 minutes left in the final quarter, the Lions had erased a 21-10 deficit and tied the game at 24.
His protégé and offseason training partner — Bengals’ All-Pro A.J. Green — caught six passes for 155 yards, including a career-long 82-yard score on the team’s first series.
“It’s tough,” said Johnson, who has been battling a sore right knee the last three weeks. “We’re both fighting to be 5-2, we’re tops in our divisions, we’re playing good ball. To come up with a loss like this — we knew it was going to come down to a play or two at the end of the game and it definitely did.
“We were on the wrong end of that.”
A sack by Ndamukong Suh with 1:43 left stopped on potential game-winning Bengals drive but a 45-yard punt by Kevin Huber trapped the Lions at their 6. The Lions moved it out to the 23 with 47 seconds left.
On second-and-four Stafford looked for Johnson on a crossing route and he was on the ground.
“You mean the play he was interfered with,” Stafford said. “Just trying to get him across the field, get a chance to get a guy who is the best receiver in the game running away from the coverage. He just couldn’t get away from them. If we hit that we’re moving. That guy was, to say the least, pretty sticky in coverage.”
The call wasn’t made and Stafford was blitzed and had to throw away the third-down pass.
With 34 seconds left, rookie punter Sam Martin kicked one off the side of his foot 28 yards to the Bengals’ 49.
“I have no real excuse for it,” said Martin, who had a 43.3-yard average and kicked one 65 yards in the game. “In a situation like that you are expecting a heavy rush and that’s what I was expecting. I rushed myself to prevent a block and just pulled it.”
Two completions by Dalton later and Nugent’s low liner cleared the cross bar.
“We keep it interesting, don’t we?” said Bengals receiver Marvin Jones, who had a 12-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first half. “That just goes to show the heart of the team. We’re thorough in our approach and we stick together for four quarters.”
Jones touchdown capped a 10-point swing at the end of the first half for the Bengals.
The Lions were up 10-7 and David Akers was attempting a 34-yard field goal. Starting left tackle Riley Reiff had left the game with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by rookie LaAdrian Waddle and a couple of linemen were playing different spots on the field-goal team.
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap broke through the block of Corey Hilliard and snuffed the kick. Jones wound up getting the touchdown with 46 seconds left — instead of a 13-7 lead, the Lions trailed 14-10.
“We did have a couple different guys go in and play different positions, but that’s no excuse,” Schwartz said. “That didn’t cost the blocked kick. We didn’t execute well enough.”
Losses like this have lingered with the Lions in past seasons. Raiola made it clear, this team isn’t like those others.
“We’ll bounce back,” he said. “I know we will bounce back. We got a bunch of fighters in here. Look who’s in this room. Look at our quarterback. We got the best receiver in the world. We’re a bunch of fighters in this room.”
First chance at redemption comes Sunday against Dallas.