Lions preseason observations: Backup QB battle carries on, Travis Fulgham catches on
Cleveland — The fourth preseason game is often an ugly affair and Thursday's matchup between the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns proved not to be an exception. The two teams combined for more punts and penalties than points in the first half before the Browns ultimately came away with a 20-16 victory.
The loss dropped the Lions to 0-4 on the preseason. They'll open the regular season with a road trip to Arizona to battle the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8.
"The big challenge for us, like every NFL team right now, is to push from this point on," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "The teams that are able to grow and build and improve through the course of the season, and these different markers that we’ll set during the season, those are the ones that will be there in the end. That’s really our next challenge. That’s an ending in and of itself. We do have to develop our team and see what we’re going to be as we go forward."
► The Lions didn't play a single projected starter in the game, but if you're looking for context clues on the backup quarterback job, Tom Savage got the start. It wasn't a productive outing. He competed 5 of 9 passes for 33 yards.
Josh Johnson relieved Savage to start the second half and had more success, leading both of Detroit's touchdown drives. In the third quarter, the journeyman quarterback scored on a 1-yard run, keeping the ball on a read option. He later connected with tight end Isaac Nauta for a 20-yard score.
► Among key backups not playing against the Browns, cornerback Teez Tabor didn't see any action. Patricia said Tabor and linebacker Steve Longa, who both returned from injury this week, were held out due to limited practice reps.
Due to the reason both players were held out, it provided little clarity on their roster chances.
► Unfortunately for Detroit's quarterbacks, especially Savage, the protection was awful. He was sacked on the team's first offensive snap when a communication breakdown up front led to an unblocked rusher. In the first half, he was dumped behind the line three times and was under duress on several other drop backs.
The starting offensive line consisted of Andrew Donnal, Luke Bowanko, Leo Koloamatangi, Beau Benzschawel and Tyrell Crosby. Benzschawel was badly beaten on multiple blocks, while Crosby drew a pair of penalties.
"Overall, I thought both of the quarterbacks did a good job of just trying to deal with the situations that they had out there," Patricia said. "I think both of them were put in some really tough spots. Both the guys had to handle those situations."
► Mark Thompson got the start at running back for the Lions and the 240-pounder ran physical and hard, much like he's done all preseason. He provided a modest 35 yards on 11 carries, but had a 25-yard gain wiped out by a Crosby hold.
► Travis Fulgham showed off his ability to track the ball, hauling in a 30-yard pass that was underthrown along the sideline. Unfortunately for the rookie receiver, he couldn't manage to get both feet down in bounds. Initially ruled a reception, the call was reversed after the Browns challenged.
Despite the bad-luck incompletion, Fulgham managed to lead the team with 80 yards receiving. After a fumble in last week's game, it was a strong bounce-back performance and likely solidified his spot on the roster.
"It was very important to fix the mistake I made last week," Fulgham said. "Fumbling the last drive of the game was definitely hard, but I just had to move on and make sure I performed in the next game."
► Cornerback Amani Oruwariye had a good effort in preseason finale, breaking up two passes thrown his direction, expertly undercutting a slant on one. His night ended early when he left the game late in the first half after suffering an injury on punt coverage.
► Safety C.J. Moore, a dark horse to sneak on to the roster because of his special teams prowess, helped his cause by knocking a punt back out of the end zone that was downed at the 2-yard line.
But Moore offset the good play with a negative one, drawing a flag for holding while blocking on the ensuing Browns punt.
► Defensive end Mitchell Loewen continued to make a strong case for a roster spot, flowing through a Browns offensive tackle on one snap and besting a blocker on a later third-down snap, hitting the quarterback and forcing an incompletion.
► Another defensive end, Jonathan Wynn, also had a couple nice pass rushes. In the second half, he beat his man, hitting the arm of quarterback David Blough, leading to an interception by cornerback Johnathan Alston.
► Tom Kennedy got the first crack at return duties for the Lions, but it was receiver Brandon Powell who got loose for a 67-yard return in the second quarter.
► Detroit's lone points came late in the half when linebacker Malik Carney was held in the end zone, resulting in an automatic safety.
► The Lions netted a second interception on a well-played ball by cornerback Jamar Summers, who quickly got his head around and snatched a deep pass intended for Cleveland receiver Derrick Willies.
"The receiver gave me outside release, I saw his eyes open up and I noticed him slowing down," Summers said. "I made sure to get my eyes back, I didn't want a (pass interference penalty)."
It was a nice, late audition for Summers, one of the top playmaking defensive backs from the short-lived AAF league this offseason.
► Running back James Williams, who signed with the Lions on Wednesday, got a few reps in the second half and managed to secure a spot on the highlight reel, catching a short pass and hurdling a defender near the sideline.
► The Lions had a chance to win the game with a final possession, but instead of heaving a Hail Mary into the end zone, Johnson was sacked on the game's final play.
A fitting end to a bad football game.