Cincinnati — Sloppy play. Costly penalties. Poor execution. A lack of discipline.
It was a microcosm of what plagued the Lions at times this season and all of it was on display Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
And in the end, it proved to be their downfall in a crushing 26-17 loss to the Bengals that dashed Detroit’s dream of reaching the playoffs for the second straight season.
“We came in and we knew what we had to do,” tight end Michael Roberts said. “We're a fighting team. Things just didn't go our way. We had compounding penalties in the fourth quarter that really set us back. Those penalties and doing what we did, we just didn't do enough to win.
"Every game that we lost, honestly, we beat ourselves. I don't feel like too many will beat the Detroit Lions besides us. It's just hard especially when you realize that and you're trying to fix it."
But the fixes never came and were the most glaring when the Lions committed six of their nine penalties — their most in a game since a Week 3 loss to the Falcons — during do-or-die time in the fourth quarter.
After the Lions reclaimed a 17-16 edge with 9:54 remaining, they were flagged twice to extend Cincinnati's ensuing drive, which led to the go-ahead 51-yard field goal by Randy Bullock.
The Lions had a chance to get a stop on a third-and-12 and get the ball back, but safety Quandre Diggs was called for a backbreaking defensive holding penalty that gave the Bengals a first down.
Two plays later, cornerback Darius Slay was called for a defensive pass interference that gave the Bengals nine free yards, which moved them into Lions’ territory and helped set up Bullock’s kick.
“Too many (penalties), on both sides of the ball we had them," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "Guys offsides, guys jumping offsides offensively — just not sharp. We didn’t play well, and I’m responsible for that. It’s just not our better day."
On Cincinnati’s final drive, the Bengals faced a third-and-6 at Detroit’s 12. In desperate need to keep it a one-possession game, the Lions failed to corral Bengals running back Gio Bernard as he got around the edge untouched and scored on a 12-yard run to put the game out of reach with 1:48 left.
"We ain't stop them when we need to,” Slay said. “They made bigger plays when they needed. We'll probably do good on first, second down. Then on third-and-6, they made a play and that's not what we needed to do. It needed to be the opposite and on certain plays that would happen."
But it wasn’t just the defense who committed ill-timed penalties. On Detroit's third possession of the second half, guard Don Barclay was called for a false start on a fourth-and-1 near midfield. He was bailed out after Cincinnati's Jordan Willis was flagged for running into punter Sam Martin to give the Lions another fourth-and-1, which they converted and led to a Tion Green touchdown for a short-lived 17-16 advantage.
Then after the Bengals took a 19-17 lead with 4:47 remaining, the Lions’ offense had a chance to answer and completely flopped with the season hanging in the balance.
Following a 3-yard loss on first down, Barclay was called for offensive holding and a false start to set up a third-and-28 at their own 7 that couldn’t convert on a desperation heave to Golden Tate.
"It just wasn't good execution. That's just what it is,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “There was definitely a lot of times when we could've got out with some points and didn't. It just is what it is.
“We don't want it to be like that. It happened. They made more plays then we did, they controlled the game and we didn't do a good job of doing that."