Big plays prove to be Lions' undoing in wild-card loss

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Terrance Williams scores on a 76-yard reception in the second quarter.

Arlington, Texas — The Lions talked during the week about limiting the big plays.

It would be vital in their NFC wild-card matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, and if they wanted to win their first playoff game since 1991, it was imperative they limited them.

There weren't a lot at AT&T Stadium Sunday, but they were crucial in the Cowboys' 24-20 victory in front of 91,410 as Dallas advanced to the divisional round of the playoff.

"In a game like this when you lay it all on the line, you have to tip your hat to them," safety Glover Quin said. "They made a few more plays than we did. We don't have anything to hold our head down for. We fought. They just made a few more plays than we did."

The first, and the longest, came late in the second half with the Lions leading, 14-0, and in control of the game. The Cowboys got the ball with 2:15 to play before halftime at their 26. After Dallas was flagged for offensive pass interference, it got the explosive play needed when quarterback Tony Romo connected on a 76-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.

There was a lot of football after that," safety James Ihedigbo said. "They are a team that is going to make plays. When you are dominating a whole half, you don't expect them just to lay down, not in a playoff game. So they made some plays, but that didn't affect us. We still came back and continued to play our style of football."

The Lions came back to get a field goal just before the half, but the Cowboys jumped back in the game.

In the second half, there were more big plays to be had.

Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had been held in check most of the game, shook off an attempted tackle by linebacker DeAndre Levy and raced 43 yards to the Detroit 7. It put the Cowboys in position to score their second touchdown – a 1-yard run by DeMarco Murray — and cut the Lions lead to 20-14.

"I ended up in a foot race with him," Levy said, explaining there was a change to how the play was run earlier in the game. "I tried to lay out and I missed the tackle. I just have to do a better job tackling low or not getting into a foot race with him."

As the Cowboys continued to rally, the Lions defense continued to help.

Linebacker Tahir Whitehead was called for unnecessary roughness when he hit Cole Beasley in the head on a pass over the middle. That play helped set up a field goal that cut the Lions' lead to 20-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Then, on what turned out to be the winning drive, the Lions gave up a 21-yard pass to tight end Jason Witten on fourth-and-6 from the Detroit 42.

"He is a top player," Ihedigbo said. "It's a Hall of Fame tight end."

It was a risky call by Dallas coach Jason Garrett, but it proved to be vital.

"Gutsy call by coach Garrett," Witten said. "For him to have confidence to be able to go for it, and for Tony to get to that look and know I was going to win … it's just a big play. You live for those moments."

The drive was kept alive and later safety Don Carey was flagged for defensive holding on a second-and-10 and a few plays later, Levy was called for dragging down Murray on a third-and-7. Both plays kept the Cowboys moving, and three plays after the Levy penalty, Romo found Williams for the 8-yard winning touchdown.

It left a defense that was one of the best in the NFL this season struggling to accept the loss and look toward next year.

"It's going to be a little while," Quin said. "You have a great team, a team that has an ability to be a championship team and to come up short? It is going to take a while. Especially once next week gets here and the games come on Saturday and we should be playing in Seattle."