Detroit — Whether it was dropped balls or negated touchdowns, the number of missed opportunities in the Lions’ deflating, 16-15 home-opening loss Sunday at Ford Field was overwhelming.
Perhaps none was as glaring as the Lions’ final first-half possession.
After quarterback Matthew Stafford hit Marvin Jones down the right sideline for a 47-yard gain, the Lions were set up with a first-and-goal at the Titans 8-yard line with less than two minutes left before halftime.
Two plays later, Titans cornerback Perrish Cox was called for a defensive pass interference in the end zone while trying to defend Golden Tate on a slant over the middle. The penalty gave the Lions a fresh set of downs at the Titans 1.
That’s when everything started to unravel.
Stafford rolled out to his right and hit tight end Eric Ebron in the back of the end zone for what appeared to be a 1-yard touchdown, extending the Lions’ lead to 16-3 with the extra point pending. But Ebron was called for an offensive pass interference, the score was wiped off the board and the Lions were pushed back to the Titans’ 11.
Stafford then threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin over the middle, but that too was nullified due to a holding penalty on guard Laken Tomlinson. It was the third touchdown the Lions had waved off, including Ameer Abdullah’s 14-yard rushing score in the first quarter on an Ebron holding call.
“That was huge, and it was blunders on our part. We shot ourselves in the foot throughout the day,” guard Larry Warford said. “That’s unacceptable on all parts. There’s no excuse for that.”
It didn’t end there as the Lions went backwards for the third consecutive play as Boldin was called for an offensive hold, giving the Lions a first-and-goal at the Titans’ 26.
The offense was only able to muster two yards on a Theo Riddick run before settling for a 42-yard field goal by Matt Prater and a 12-3 lead.
“It just kind of messed up the flow. We have a game plan and we know it down pat but when you get that many calls back and touchdowns back, it kind of takes a toll and I would say it did,” Jones said. “But we’re a great offense and we still have to come back and capitalize.”
The Lions sporadically moved the ball the rest of the game. The offense produced a second Prater field goal on another first-and-goal situation, but three of its five second-half possessions didn’t go more than 20 yards.
“(The Titans) did play well on defense for most of the day but it’s just mistakes on our part. That’s pretty much the story of the whole game,” Warford said. “We made too many mistakes and it cost us a win. We got to go back, watch the film and correct them because we can’t go through the season like that.”
One of the Lions’ priorities was to prevent Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota from getting out in space.
For the most part, the defense met that goal by sacking Mariota three times, registering five quarterback hits and limiting him to 11 yards rushing on two carries.
The problem was, Mariota made the Lions pay with his arm as he threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson between linebacker Tahir Whitehead and safety Rafael Bush with 1:13 remaining.
“That was really the main focus, stopping the run game and keeping Mariota in the pocket, not allowing him to break the game open,” Whitehead said. “He’s a great young quarterback. He can make the throws that’s necessary; the deep passes, short passes.
“On that last play, I just got to play more aggressive through the hands and force (Johnson) out of bounds, fight him to the ground. It’s all a learning curve. Learn from mistakes, fix them, move on.”
Stafford isn’t known for his scrambling but he flashed his ability on a couple occasions.
The first came on a third-and-8 from the Lions’ 42 when Stafford ran up the middle and bowled over one Titans’ defender before being gang tackled a yard short.
The second, and most impressive, helped set up Prater’s second field goal in the third. Facing a third-and-14 at the Titans’ 45, Stafford found some running room to the right and picked up 24 yards to give the Lions a first down at the 21.
Stafford finished with the two carries for 31 yards to go along with his 260 yards passing.
“It really helps us that he’s willing to run the ball when necessary,” Warford said. “It takes a lot of pressure off us and puts pressure on the defense because they have to contain that also. Give it up to him, he did a great job today.”