Detroit — It’s become a dangerous dance for the Lions — fall into a double-digit deficit in the first quarter and rally back.
It happened the past two weeks against the Browns and Bears, when the Lions were able to make adjustments and buckle down to claw out of the early hole.
But on Thursday, another slow start finally bit the Lions in a 30-23 loss to the Vikings at Ford Field, leaving cornerback Darius Slay miffed and without any answers for the troubling trend.
“I don’t know, man. That’s a question I’m asking myself as an individual,” Slay said. “I’m trying to make sure I’m playing all four quarters. I ain’t the only person on the team, so we all got to feel the same way. I’m an energy guy so I’m turned up all day, every day. Some guys are maybe a little different.
“I know one thing we got to get this (stuff) right because we can’t be starting slow. This slow stuff is going to catch up with us. It’s catching up now in the critical moments and we can’t be having that.”
Over the past three games, the Lions have been outscored 33-3 in the first quarter. They fell behind 10-0 to the Browns before scoring 17 straight points before halftime. They fell behind 10-0 to the Bears before answering with three touchdowns in the second quarter.
Against the Vikings, the Lions trailed 13-0 by the end of the first quarter but couldn’t muster another resounding response. Detroit’s offense opened the game with two three-and-outs and a turnover on a fumbled exchange between Matthew Stafford and Ameer Abdullah on its first three drives.
On defense, the Lions couldn’t stop the Vikings on third down as they converted three times on a 14-play drive that resulted in a touchdown on their opening drive.
“It didn’t take our knees out, we just kept playing ball and they found a way to punch it in,” defensive tackle Akeem Spence said of the early conversions. “We just need to find a way to get off the field on third downs because those were third-and-medium situations and we usually win those, so that’s something that we need to get better at and just fix for next week.”
But the second-half start was even worse. After Detroit scored before halftime to cut the deficit to 20-10, the Vikings punched the Lions right in the mouth and opened the third quarter with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Latavius Murray started it with a 46-yard scamper, Jerick McKinnon churned out back-to-back runs of 16 and 11 yards, and Murray capped it with a 2-yard score to push ahead, 27-10.
“We want it easy, everybody wants to win easy,” Slay said. “I know as a defense, as a team, as a whole we started too slow. And it can’t keep going like that. Teams do get better at the end of the year and that’s what our goal is, too, to get better at the end of the year. We got to start off fast.
“We came out terrible in the third quarter. First drive, four plays, all runs. Terrible. We just ain’t pull all the (stuff) together, man.”
Cornerback Nevin Lawson said the team needs to do a better job of focusing, executing assignments and trusting the game plan to combat the sluggish starts.
However, Slay said he doesn’t know how to fix the inconsistencies in the first and second halves that have recently plagued the Lions, adding his teammates must “have it in their heart, in their desire" to go full bore for 60 minutes.
“We got to just blame ourselves. We’re all grown men in here,” Slay said. “We know how to come out here and handle this job. This is our job. If guys aren’t jacked to go, they don’t need to go, you know what I’m saying? We can’t be starting slow like that because I’m not a slow starter.
“We got to find a way because this slow starting stuff is just getting (old).”