Four Downs: Lions special teams has day to forget

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Sherrick McManis recovers the ball after Jeremy Ross muffs the catch on a Bears punt in the first half.

First down

Jeremy Ross hasn't had many game-breaking returns this year, but he's protected the football well this year.

He lost a fumble on a kickoff return in Week 2, but on 68 punts — 37 of which were fair caught — he hadn't lost one until Sunday's 20-14 win over the Bears.

It was a costly error by Ross as a second-quarter punt bounced in front of him, hit him and became a live ball recovered by Sherrick McManis. The Bears took over at the 11-yard line, and on the next play, tied the game at 7-7.

"It was a leaf punt," Ross said. "A lot of punters try to use that technique sometimes to make it challenging for returners to catch. Those balls move a lot in the air. They move a lot on their own with no wind, but if you put wind into the equation it makes it a little bit more tough."

Ross said next time he sees that style of punt, he'll try to run away to avoid another mistake.

"As soon as I ran up to it, it kind of fell down on me, and then I tried to run away from it, unlucky bounce, it hit (my) hand and then once I touched it it's live," he said.

Second down

Two other plays on special teams were costly for the Lions, but the scapegoat isn't quite as obvious.

On a third-quarter punt, Lions linebacker Julian Stanford was called for roughing the kicker, but a more appropriate descriptor would be grazing. The Bears were punting on fourth-and-23, got an automatic first down and scored a touchdown three plays later to take a 14-10 lead.

Even though the penalty should've been running into the kicker or none at all, coach Jim Caldwell said Stanford shouldn't have been that close regardless.

"He shouldn't have touched him," Caldwell said. "There's no issue. Whether it's running into or roughing, it doesn't matter. It's still a penalty, and we don't need any penalties.

The third issue happened early in the fourth quarter as Matt Prater had a 37-yard field goal blocked by Jeremiah Ratliff. At first glance, it was hard to tell who to blame.

"I think it came out pretty low," Caldwell said. "We will have to look at it and see how much leakage we got as well."

It was the second field goal Prater has had blocked this year. The other was against the Dolphins in Week 10 when guard Rob Sims missed a block.

Third down

I was one of the many people who slammed Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen this week, and I stand by it. There's a reason he hadn't started a game since going 1-9 as a starter for the Panthers in 2010.

But Clausen was impressive at times Sunday, and if not for a handful of ugly drops, he could've led the Bears to an upset victory.

The most impressive thing Clausen did, though, was get in Ziggy Ansah's face after the Lions' defensive end popped him helmet to helmet on the Bears' final drive, a hit that drew a personal foul. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Clausen, though, jumped up without his helmet and stood up to the 6-foot-6, 278-pound Ansah.

"I respect that," Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff said. "If it goes down, hey, we're all in."

Fourth down

The Lions found out they'll be playing at 4:25 p.m. next Sunday in Green Bay.

Before the announcement, most players didn't care when the game that will decide the NFC North would be, but wide receiver Calvin Johnson hoped it wouldn't be in prime time.

"I don't think anybody wants that game to be flexed," he said. "For the main reason, we're playing in Green Bay at night time.

Are the Packers more intimidating at night?

"No, it's cold at night," he said.