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Four downs: Cardinals take Tate out of Lions game plan

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

First down: Lions wide receiver Golden Tate had one touch in the second half of Sunday's 14-6 loss to the Cardinals, an 8-yard end around. He didn't have a target or a catch.

In the last five games, Tate eclipsed 100 yards receiving four times, including each of the last three games. So why on earth would he only have two targets?

"They weren't forcing me to look away," quarterback Matthew Stafford said when asked about Tate. "I'm just going through my progressions and trying to find open guys. They pay guys to cover, and I was just trying to send the ball the correct way."

Calvin Johnson led the Lions with 12 targets, followed by Theo Riddick with six, Joique Bell with five and Eric Ebron with four.

But Tate has established himself as the second-best weapon on the offense and clearly the most sure-handed. The Cardinals secondary, particularly cornerback Antonio Cromartie, deserves plenty of credit for shutting down Tate, but Stafford has to have more trust in Tate because he's proven all season he can make difficult catches in tight coverage.

"Every game is different," coach Jim Caldwell said. "Next game he may get nine balls. One game he may get one or two."

Entering Sunday's game, Tate had at least five catches in every game. There's no reason to ditch that recipe for success.

Second down: Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi deserves plenty of blame for his unit's game-long struggles, regardless of how good the Arizona defense is.

Not involving Tate was just one of many blunders. On third-and-1 on the opening series, the Lions ran a fullback dive, something they've done multiple times this year and that Arizona was ready for.

On a 3rd and 1 at the end of the third quarter, the Lions handed off to Theo Riddick out of the shotgun, which was predictably stuffed.

"We just haven't executed as well as we can," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We've got to continue to work to get to that point, and we'll go from there."

The offense didn't execute well at all, but the play calling didn't put it in the best position.

Third down: Drew Stanton proved a lot of naysayers wrong Sunday. Sure, he had two ugly interceptions, but his 306 passing yards and two touchdowns were the difference.

"He played a good game," Lions defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. "He played like a vet."

The Cardinals are 9-1 and in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and Stanton will have to be the one to lead them to any playoff success with Carson Palmer (torn ACL) out for the year.

"You can't sit there and feel sorry for yourself," he said. "Things are a little bit different, but I don't think it's changed anything in the mind-set that we have as an organization."

Stanton was a second-round pick by the Lions in 2008, but started just four games in his four seasons in Detroit. He's already started four this year and is 3-1.

Fourth down: No, the game wasn't fixed, and yes, there were some bad calls. The refs didn't decide the game.

However, the Lions hoped they'd get a review of a spot in the fourth quarter as they did in the second quarter, even if the first one went against them.

Late in the second quarter on third and 5, tight end Eric Ebron appeared to have the first down, but was spotted shy of the line to gain. Since it was within the final 2 minutes, coach Jim Caldwell didn't have to challenge, but did cause enough of a stink to force a review that later upheld the spot.

On the game's final drive, Drew Stanton hit Larry Fitzgerald on 3rd and 11, and the Lions thought they stopped him short.

"I thought they would at least review the spot just to see like they did for Ebron's play," safety James Ihedigbo said. "The ref didn't want to do that, so it is what it is."

Instead, the play was a first down, and the Cardinals took three kneel downs to end the game.