Lions can lose to Packers, still make playoffs with help
The Lions’ game next Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers will be for the NFC North championship. That was going to be the case whether the Lions won or lost in Dallas.
The Lions will be looking for their first division title in 23 years. The Packers, on the other hand, will be seeking a fifth crown in six years after ceding control of the North to the Vikings last season.
Beating Green Bay is the ideal path to the postseason, but it’s not the only way for Detroit to get in. The team can still back into a wild-card spot if Washington loses to the New York Giants. That’s all well and good, but New York is already locked into the No. 5 seed and has nothing to play for in that game, other than wrecking a rival’s season.
For the first time since Ameer Abdullah went down with an injury, the Lions showed signs of being able to run the ball effectively.
The surprising spark came from moving Zach Zenner into the starting lineup. The second-year back, who had struggled with consistency this season, averaging 3.5 yards per carry coming into the game, ran all over the Cowboys in the first half, gaining 64 yards on 10 carries and scoring on runs of 5 and 7 yards.
The team inexplicably went away from the hot hand in the second half, handing the ball to Zenner twice the rest of the game. As you might expect, the mild-mannered back declined to question the coaching decision.
“They call it and we haul it,” Zenner said. “That’s my mentality. I don’t concern myself with those higher-up (decisions).
The Lions have played without Darius Slay before this season, but hadn’t faced a receiver the caliber of Dez Bryant in those games. The team’s healthy cornerbacks proved not up for the challenge, playing a significant role in the blowout loss.
Johnson Bademosi, Slay’s fill-in, got beat for 25-yard touchdown in the first half and was flagged for pass interference on the play, even had Bryant not completed the process.
Nevin Lawson, who has been solid after a rocky start to the season, also fell victim to Bryant. Lawson drew a pass interference in the red zone, setting up the Cowboys’ go-ahead touchdown. He got beat by Bryant again in the fourth quarter, on a 19-yard back-shoulder fade for the game’s final score.
Slay is battling a hamstring injury and it seems unlikely he’ll be back next week against the Packers. That’s problematic given how well the Packers have been passing the ball in recent weeks. During the team’s five-game winning streak, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been completing better than 70 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Penalties are not the reason the Lions lost to the Cowboys, but there were a couple of hotly debated calls in this one.
First, on Dez Bryant’s first touchdown, on which Johnson Bademosi was flagged for interference, the receiver grabbed hold of the cornerback’s face mask while fighting for position. The official clearly missed the call, which should have led to offsetting penalties and replaying the down.
Then, in the third quarter, defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson was whistled for unnecessary roughness when he picked up running back Ezekiel Elliot and roughly slammed him to the turf. The television broadcast strongly criticized the call, feeling Robinson’s play was a normal, physical tackle. The 15-yard penalty was part of a 95-yard Cowboys touchdown drive.