One game into his tenure with the Lions, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is already facing tough questions.
Head coach Matt Patricia and Bevell have talked about a late third-and-five against Arizona being a “got-to-have-it” situation.
But the ill-fated timeout notwithstanding, the resulting play attempted by the Lions in the 27-27 season-opening tie begs more questions about Detroit not getting it — and ultimately not getting what once appeared to be an easy Week 1 win in the desert.
On the play, the Lions sent four wide receivers deep and quarterback Matthew Stafford threw the ball away under pressure with no receivers near the first-down marker, stalling the drive near midfield with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left and the Lions leading 24-16.
“Obviously we can put ourselves in better situations throughout the game and even in that moment,” said Bevell, in his first game as Lions offensive coordinator. “It comes down to getting in the right situation and being able to execute in that situation.
“Basically, what they were doing, it was a got-to-have-it situation, they were bringing pressure and playing man-to-man coverage.”
Bevell said it was what he anticipated from the Arizona defense after the Detroit sideline called a timeout with the play clock winding down.
The mishap looks worse when compared to an alternate universe, as Stafford found running back J.D. McKissic for a first down and more as the play was blown dead because of the timeout.
After the drive, Stafford was seen mouthing what appeared to be “trust me” on the sideline.
On a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Bevell reiterated Patricia’s comments from Sunday and Monday that Patricia called the timeout after television cameras spotted Bevell making the signal.
“We’re in constant communication during the game, but Coach calls all the timeouts,” Bevell said. “Obviously we communicate and we talk about the situation as we’re going along. We wanted to make sure we stayed in a third-and-5 rather than a third-and-10 situation there.”
The Lions would then go to a fourth-and-five, with a partially blocked Sam Martin punt giving Kyler Murray and the Cardinals good field position for the game-tying drive.
Detroit surrendered an 18-point fourth-quarter lead to Arizona, which was starting a rookie quarterback and head coach in their NFL debuts.
After 131 receiving yards on Sunday, T.J. Hockenson’s record-setting debut will put defenses on notice, Bevell said.
“He had a great game and he did the things we’re asking him to do,” Bevell said. “He was comfortable in the situation. It’s one game, and although we’re excited about what he did, there’s still a lot more to be learned from the game, still a lot more to be improved on.
“Defenses will start looking at our offense different ways.”
The eighth overall pick from Iowa set a record for most receiving yards for a tight end in a career debut, was second all-time in receiving yards for any Detroit debut (Earl McCullouch, 132, 1968), and had the most yards of any tight end in Week 1.
Hockenson and wide receiver Danny Amendola (104 yards) were the first teammates to amass 100 receiving yards in their team debuts in nearly six decades. The last pair was running backs Tony Teresa and Jack Larscheid for Oakland on Sept. 11, 1960.
The offensive line had a forgettable start, leading the way for just 116 rushing yards, allowing five sacks and committing five penalties.
“We still need to clean that up,” Bevell said. “It’s something that we’re going to pride ourselves on, and we’re going to continue to work on. I thought there was some really close plays to being some really explosive gains.”
It was the first career game Frank Ragnow started at center, and guard Joe Dahl was a first-time starter. Graham Glasgow moved to guard, his third different assignment in three years.
Most concerning was fourth-year left tackle Taylor Decker, who had four penalties and had trouble with veterans Terrell Suggs and Chandler Jones.
“I’m probably no more concerned than he is,” Bevell said. “I think that he is a very prideful guy. He’s really worked hard and he’s done an outstanding job this offseason of improving himself both as a player but also as a leader for us on the offensive line. I expect him to be able to come back and be at his best this next week.”
Decker will be matched up with tough pass rushers again on Sunday, as the Los Angeles Chargers feature Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, Decker’s former teammate at Ohio State.
When asked about the impotent defense down the stretch, Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni joined Patricia in his recent praise for Larry Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals wide receiver was targeted seven times in the fourth quarter, making five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, as the Lions tried several defensive backs on the 16-year pro.
Fitzgerald then added a 45-yard reception in overtime.
“No. 11 showed why he's going to be a Hall of Fame receiver," Pasqualoni said. "He went up, tracked the ball, and made two amazing catches.
"Those plays kept the drive going for them."
Pasqualoni recalled another time Fitzgerald pulled a win from his team in 2010. As a defensive line coach in Dallas, Pasqualoni watched a late crucial catch from John Skelton to set up a game-winning Jay Feely field goal in the closing seconds of a 27-26 win.
"It's a game of inches, men," Pasqualoni told reporters. "There's not much margin for error at this level of football."
The Lions released linebacker Tre Lamar from injured reserve on Tuesday. He is an undrafted rookie from Clemson.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.