Detroit — Three missed field goals, six sacks and a second half without Calvin Johnson doomed the Lions Sunday in a 17-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field.
Alex Henery missed three second-half field goals for the Lions, including a 50-yarder wide left with 26 seconds left in regulation, as the Bills held the Lions scoreless in the second half. Dan Carpenter hit a 58-yarder to give the Bills their first lead of the game with four seconds left in regulation, proving just how important the kicking game is in the NFL.
"Any time you leave points on the table in this league, obviously, it's bound to come back and haunt you," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
The misses might haunt Henery the most, who's now 1-of-5 in two games with the Lions since replacing rookie Nate Freese. Lions kickers have combined to go 4-of-12 on field goals this season, and if Caldwell's postgame comments are any indication, the team will search for its third kicker of the season this week.
"It's a performance-based league, and you've got to perform — plain and simple," he said. "You've got to perform, so anyone that doesn't, we take a look and see if we can improve that one way or another. And that's our obligation to obviously our fans, our team, our organization, so we'll do just that."
The Lions (3-2) can point to several reasons for Sunday's loss in front of a home crowd of 62,775. Matthew Stafford couldn't stretch the field and struggled with accuracy, going 18 of 31 for 221 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and a 77.5 passer rating. He also incurred six sacks, a season-high despite the return of right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus had three of the sacks and forced one of two Stafford fumbles, though the Lions recovered both.
"We all had our hand in this one," Stafford said.
Receiver Calvin Johnson was extremely limited and left the game in the third quarter after aggravating his right ankle injury on his only catch, a 7-yarder. Golden Tate helped pick up his slack with seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown, but he was the only true offensive threat for the Lions, who gained just 263 yards.
Running back Reggie Bush missed most of the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, leaving George Winn as the only tailback. He finished with 11 carries for 48 yards, but a couple drops in his NFL debut.
The Lions defense allowed 226 yards in the second half and were at times picked apart by backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who went 30 of 43 for 308 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Receiver Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick this year, had seven catches for 87 yards, including five for 73 in the second half and a 20-yarder to set up the game-winning field goal.
"He led this team, and I understand now that he definitely knows what he's doing as far as breaking down defenses and coverages," Watkins said of Orton, who started in place of EJ Manuel.
Adding insult to injury, Bills linebackers Ty Powell and Randell Johnson carried defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz onto the field after time expired. The Lions fired Schwartz last December after five seasons as head coach.
The Lions opened with two three-and-outs, but they took a 7-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Tate with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
Four plays later cornerback Rashean Mathis intercepted Orton — who telegraphed a pass to Watkins on a curl — and returned it for a 40-yard touchdown. Mathis' first interception since 2011 gave the Lions a 14-0 lead with 13:44 left in the second quarter.
On the Lions next drive, Stafford threw an interception on a pass that bounced off Bush's hand and right to cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Buffalo turned the turnover into a 45-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter to trim the score to 14-3, a score that remained until halftime. Caldwell described the interception as a turning-point moment that gave the Bills added confidence.
The Lions opened the third quarter with a 25-yard pass to Tate. A 16-yard run by Winn moved the Lions into field-goal territory, but Henery missed from 44 yards, hitting the right upright.
The Bills quickly drove into field-goal territory on the ensuing drive, but Carpenter's 50-yard try hit the left upright and missed.
The Lions again drove into Bills territory, but after Winn dropped a pass on third-and-10, they had to try another field goal. Henery missed from 47 yards with a low hook that missed short and left.
Aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Nick Fairley, the Bills drove to the Detroit 7-yard line, where they settled for a 25-yard field goal by Carpenter, which cut the Lions' lead to 14-6 with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
After another stall by the Lions, the Bills put together their best drive of the game, converting two third downs including a perfect 42-pass from Orton to Marquise Goodwin, who burned Darius Slay to move the Bills to the 4.
Then, on the next play, Orton hit tight end Chris Gragg for a 2-yard touchdown pass, and running back Fred Jackson ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 14-14 with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter.
Neither offense moved well the rest of the fourth quarter until Tate's 55-yard catch and run, which moved the Lions to the Buffalo 34 with 47 seconds left, but Henery missed his third field goal three plays later.
"In this league, there's no lead that's safe, and if you can't extend it, you're going to have some problems down the stretch," Caldwell said.