December 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Chris McCosky

Chris McCosky's Four Downs: Ill-timed subs sink Lions in end

First down

The Lions season ended with the Vikings able to take a knee and kill the final two minutes of the game to preserve a one-point lead. Why? The Lions had to burn two timeouts early in the second half because of poor substitutions.

The first one came during the point-after try following a 19-yard touchdown catch by Reggie Bush. With guard-center Dylan Gandy (calf) and normal starting tackle LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) out, the Lions had different personnel on the field goal team.

Center Dominic Raiola stayed on the field to take what would have been Gandy’s spot. When reserve tackle Corey Hilliard ran onto the field, they had 12 men and used a timeout.

“We were trying to mix and match a lot of different people,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “We had lost Gandy and it was some miscommunication on the sideline. Corey is trying his very best out there, but we shouldn’t have taken a timeout in that situation. Just take a delay of game penalty.”

The other came late in the third quarter on a second-and-goal play from the Vikings’ 5. Both Jeremy Ross and Kevin Ogletree left the game at the same time, leaving 10 men on the field. Timeout.

“Even though it looked like we were going to be able to get that play off, at that point I didn’t want to risk a lost-yardage play, delay of game or something like that,” Schwartz said.

The Lions had completed two passes to Ogletree and the timeout seemed to settle the Vikings’ defense. The Lions failed to get the ball in the end zone and settled for a 25-yard field goal in the fourth.

Second down

The Lions played like a team that was distracted. Those bad substitutions were just one example. Rookie Ziggy Ansah jumped offside on the first snap of the game. The passing game, without Calvin Johhson and Brandon Pettigrew, seemed out of sync.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford helped stall a drive with an intentional grounding penalty. He was sacked five times; at least three of them could be considered coverage sacks.

On the third-down play before the 25-yard field goal, Stafford tried to run a quarterback draw but slipped.

Did the rumors swirling around Schwartz’s future distract them? The players adamantly said no.

“He did a good job keeping focus on the team,” Raiola said. “He made sure the game was the biggest thing. It would have done a disservice to the game of football if you make it about his job or win one for the Gipper type of thing.

“Jim did a good job of that.”

Stafford agreed.

“I don’t think we were distracted at all,” he said. “We just go out on Sundays trying to win football games. Nobody is thinking about anything other than playing as well as they can and trying to win.”

Third down

Among the players facing an uncertain future with this franchise, backup quarterback Shaun Hill will be an unrestricted free agent, and he’s likely to attract a lot of suitors.

“I definitely would not be opposed to coming back to Detroit,” he said. “I just have to spend some time with my family and talk it out to see what is going to be best. Who knows if coming back will even be an option? I hope it is and we will see what happens.”

Hill and his wife are expected a baby in the next few weeks, so that will be his first priority. After that, he will wait to see if there is any change in the coaching staff. But nothing has happened these last few years to sour him on the franchise.

“The end result is frustrating, but the whole season was not all frustrating,” he said. “The outcome was not what we wanted it to be, but we did all we could to put ourselves in a position to win every week.

“We were in a lot of ballgames that could have gone either way and we weren’t on the right side of a lot of them.”

Fourth down

The Vikings were dealing with the same issue — rumors of a possible coaching change — that the Lions dealt with down the stretch. And like Schwartz, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier went out with his head high.

“I have a contract,” Frazier said. “Our staff has a contract through 2014 and I hope that (the owners) will honor that and give us a chance to come back and try to get our quarterback situation fixed, try to get depth of our roster and correct some errors that need to be fixed.

“I hope they give this staff a chance to finish what they started. We’re only a season removed from the playoffs.”

Frazier, like Schwartz, also seems to have the support of his locker room.

“He’s been consistent with his message, week in and week out, through the tough season we had,” said linebacker Chad Greenway. “It kept us together. For coach, we’re going to have his back.”

Matthew Stafford reacts to an incomplete pass. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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