Third-quarter meltdown sums up dreadful outing by Lions defense

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Lions safety Glover Quin tackles Jets running back Bilal Powell in the first quarter.

Detroit — It seemed like a dream scenario for the Detroit Lions’ defense.

Opening the regular season at Ford Field on Monday night against a rookie quarterback and a New York Jets team first-year coach Matt Patricia is plenty familiar with.

And it started out as such, with safety Quandre Diggs picking off Jets’ Sam Darnold on the first play from scrimmage and returning it for a 37-yard score to give the Lions a 7-0 lead 20 seconds into the game.

Then the next 59-plus minutes transpired and developed into an absolute nightmare as the Lions were routinely gashed and gouged in a 48-17 beatdown.

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“We were undisciplined. We weren't executing. We didn't do our fundamentals,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said bluntly. “We didn't execute our individual jobs and this is what the result was.”

None of it was worse than the horrific third quarter when the Jets rattled off 31 unanswered points — the most New York has scored in a quarter since it posted 34 in the first quarter against Arizona in 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

After the Lions opened the second half with a four-play, 75-yard drive to pull even at 17 and gain some momentum, the Jets immediately answered. They marched right down the field with little resistance in six plays and regained the lead on a 21-yard scoring strike from Darnold to Quincy Enunwa, who spun through an attempted tackle by cornerback Nevin Lawson and dove into the end zone.

From that point on, everything seemingly snowballed and spiraled out of control.

“It just seemed like we never could get going,” safety Glover Quin said. “We got right back in it right at the half. We had a good drive and we tied the game up and then they went right back and scored. I don't remember what all happened on that drive, but in that situation we got to go out and get a stop and give our offense the ball right back when they were hot. We didn't.

“We didn't make enough plays. I don't remember a lot of big plays that were made. It seemed like defensively we were never in control of the game. I have to go back and see what's going on and why it was happening and get it fixed.”

The Jets followed up Enunwa’s score with two non-offensive touchdowns on Detroit’s next two drives — a 36-yard pick-six by Darron Lee and a 78-yard punt return by former Lion Andre Roberts.

New York added a field goal after Lee’s second interception — and Matthew Stafford’s fourth pick of the game — before Isaiah Crowell capped the third-quarter bludgeoning with a 62-yard rushing score, bursting through a gaping hole on the right side that left Francois diving at air and sent the Ford Field faithful streaming to the exits.

“We just got beat in all phases — special teams, offense, defense, coaching. We got beat across the board,” Francois said.

“We got to look at ourselves in the mirror; each one of us. That pointing-finger stuff ain't going to get us nowhere. Pointing the finger first at yourself is what's going to help us now, even including myself. Me jumping out of a gap when I knew I should've played the B-gap and next thing you know (Crowell) is at the goal post. That's something that's not usually like me, but I did that. It's undisciplined. I stepped out of that. That's something I got to look at. There's a lot of plays I could’ve made out there or helped my teammates be in position to make the plays, but I was selfish and put myself in bad position and hurt my team.”

After Diggs' interception, the Lions never got a hand on another Darnold throw. He completed 16 of his next 20 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, the first on a 41-yard pass to Robby Anderson on a third-and-2 with little pressure coming from Detroit’s defensive line, and the Jets racked up 349 yards of total offense — a category they ranked 28th in the NFL in last season. 

The Lions' run defense remained a sore subject after surrendering 169 rushing yards to the Jets, with running backs Crowell (10 carries, 102 yards) and Bilal Powell (12 carries, 60 yards) averaging a whopping 10.2 and five yards per carry. So did the pass rush, with Darnold only being hit twice on sacks by linebacker Devon Kennard and defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

The Lions also struggled to get off the field on third down, particularly in the first half when the Jets converted on 6 of 9 third-down situations.

It didn’t help that All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay had to leave the field to be evaluated for a concussion in the first quarter and Ansah exited the game with a shoulder injury in the second, leaving the Lions with four defensive linemen and a nonexistent pass rush. But Quin and Francois both said the porous play had less to do with effort and more to do with execution.

Kennard noted the defense remains a “work in progress” under Patricia but didn’t use the new scheme as an excuse. Instead, Kennard said everything and everybody needs to start clicking soon, especially with a short week and daunting road ahead.

“It's frustrating, but it's the first game of the season. We got 15 more games,” Kennard said. “We play again in six days (against the 49ers) and we got to bounce back. We got to respond.

“Our season is not over. We played a really bad game today, especially in the second half. It's one game at the end of the day and there's a lot of things we can get right and put ourselves in a better position."

If not, this season could turn into a long recurring nightmare.