The game had more twists and turns than any in recent memory, but the Lions fell short of a historic comeback in New Orleans. We offer our takeaways on the game.
New Orleans — You see strange things in the Big Easy. Things you don’t see anywhere else. Spend enough time here and you’ll swear you’ve seen it all, only to discover you haven’t.
Sunday was another one of those days here at the Superdome, where the noise made it hard to hear and the play on the field made it difficult to believe what you were seeing, at least for all those fans who decided not to turn away.
Even the players who were in the middle of it all were left shaking their heads after the Saints held off the Lions for a 52-38 victory that made about as much sense as the French Quarter during Mardi Gras.
“Wild … crazy,” cornerback Darius Slay said, pausing as he tried to find the right words before finally giving up. “It was just wild. Real wild.”
And when the wild ride was finally over, after 3 hours and 47 minutes, after 90 points and 12 touchdowns — the highest-scoring regular-season game in Lions history, and the 14th-highest in NFL history — after a 35-point deficit midway through the third quarter for the visiting Lions became a one-score game with more than 6 minutes to play — OK, everybody stop to take a breath here — there was no easy way to make sense of it all.
“It was a different one, for sure,” said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who committed five turnovers in Sunday’s loss – three of them directly resulting in Saints touchdowns – and looked like he was stuck in a pinball machine for most of the afternoon. “I talked to (Saints quarterback) Drew (Brees) about that after the game. He came up and said, ‘That was a weird one, huh?’ And yeah, it was. It was crazy.”
But the craziest thing of all, perhaps, was that it was still a game at the end. That Stafford wasn’t pulled from the game when things really got out of hand as Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore returned an interception 27 yards for a score to make it 45-10 with 8:34 to play in the third quarter. By then, Stafford, who already was playing on a sprained ankle, was wincing in pain after taking a shot to the ribs, and backup Jake Rudock started warming up on the sideline.
Asked later, though, if he’d contemplated taking a seat, Stafford replied sharply, “Absolutely not.” And his coach really wouldn’t say if he felt differently.
“One thing we certainly knew is we had a chance to bring it back,” Jim Caldwell insisted. “Probably nobody else in this universe thought so, except for the guys in that locker room. But our guys fought back and gave us a chance.”
Heading to the bus late Sunday afternoon, that was the message that was delivered. And that has to be the encouraging thought as the Lions — a team now riddled with significant injuries — head into their bye week.
Just as all was not lost Sunday, all is not lost with this season, though the Lions can’t help but feel as if they tossed away something important after a 3-1 start to this season.
“We still don’t feel good about it,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “We’ve got a great team, and we’re not playing to our ability. I know we’ve got a lot of football left, but we expected to be 4-2.”
That they’re not, however, isn’t hard to figure. Not with the injuries piling up the way they have the last few weeks. Haloti Ngata was lost for the season in the loss to Carolina at home, right guard T.J. Lang was a late scratch Sunday due to back problems and by game’s end the Lions also had lost Glover Quin (concussion), Golden Tate (shoulder) and Greg Robinson (ankle), among others.
Slay admitted he got “teary-eyed” watching Quin lay motionless on the ground for a time after a third-quarter collision with A’Shawn Robinson. Others acknowledged the game of musical chairs that was taking place on the offensive line as starters kept shuffling in and out added to the general confusion.
Stafford was sacked five more times Sunday, bringing the total to 17 in the last three games. And if you want to gripe about Jim Bob Cooter’s predictable play-calling or Stafford’s carelessness with the football — in addition to the fumbles, he had 12 passes deflected at or near the line Sunday — I won’t argue with you.
“But our biggest problem is keeping No. 9 from getting hit,” Fells said. “That’s been an issue for, what, six games now? Making sure we can protect Matt and make him comfortable is the biggest thing. If we can’t do that, it’s gonna be a really long season.”
But if they can — if Taylor Decker can return soon after the bye, and a week’s rest buys time for Lang’s ailing back — they really can make a serious run at the playoffs.
The Lions’ wild-card hopes might have taken a hit Sunday, sure. A third conference loss — they’re now 0-3 against the NFC South — clearly won’t help their tiebreaker scenarios at the end of the season.
But the NFC North race only got tighter with Minnesota’s 23-10 win over Green Bay. The Vikings now lead at 4-2, but the Lions, who won at Minnesota in Week 3, are the only team without a division loss. They’re also the only team that’s still playing with the quarterback they started the season with, as the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone Sunday.
“That’s tough,” Stafford said, when told of the Rodgers news after the game. “Injuries are tough.”
They’re also no excuse, obviously. And the Lions have been in this spot before, only to see the Packers rally and win the division, anyway. But lost in all that frenzied play Sunday, and even in the frustrating final result, was that small solace.
“It’s not over,” Slay said, “unless we decide it is.”