The Detroit News' Justin Rogers, John Niyo and Bob Wojnowski discuss the Lions' loss to the Chiefs and how there are plenty of positives to take from the game, even in defeat. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Detroit — With a banged-up quarterback and down a Pro Bowl cornerback, the Detroit Lions went toe-to-toe with the Kansas Chiefs, but fell just short on Sunday in one of the most entertaining NFL games played at Ford Field in the past few years, 34-30.
In a matchup that had everything from big plays, to multiple lead changes, to controversial officiating decisions, the Lions and Chiefs delivered in the early-season matchup of unbeatens.
"We're a good football team," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We lost to another great football team. There were a bunch of great plays made in this game, a couple bad plays by each team in this game. That's the way it goes. Came down to the last 15 seconds.
"They were undefeated coming into this game," Stafford said. "So were we. Somebody was going to have to lose."
Darrel Williams' 1-yard touchdown plunge with 20 seconds remaining proved to be the difference.
Down three, the Chiefs drove 79 yards on nine plays, silencing a raucous home crowd hungry for a monumental regular-season win. On fourth-and-8 from his own 34, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes took advantage of the pass rush losing its footing, scrambling 15 yards for the first down.
"He’s a great player, he saw it, and he just took it right away," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We had a particular call, and they came in with a bigger personnel group, and they did a good job with the protection on it, and really kind of doubled down on some of our guys, chipped them out of there, opened up a big hole, and I think it was probably a quick reform, whether it was there, take off; if not, throw it. It was there for him and he took advantage of it.
"That’s on me. I’ve got to coach that better."
Eight plays later, Williams was in the end zone.
The Lions had not one, but two cracks at a Hail Mary in the closing seconds, but both heaves ended in incompletions, sealing Kansas City's come-from-behind victory.
The Chiefs were forced to rally after Detroit's offense went to work and put the Lions on top late in the fourth quarter.
Starting at their own 21, quarterback Matthew Stafford completed all four of his passes, including a 34-yard deep ball to Marvin Hall down the right sideline, followed by a 6-yard score to Kenny Golladay two plays later.
It went to review, but after a lengthy look, the officials ruled Golladay had got both feet down in bounds as the home crowd erupted.
The score put the Lions up 30-27 with 2:31 remaining. But that proved plenty of time for Mahomes and company. The reigning MVP finished 22 of 42 passing for 315 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions.
Stafford, who came into the day questionable with a hip injury, finished 21 of 34 for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Golladay led the Lions with five receptions for 67 yards and the two scores.
The loss drops the Lions to 2-1-1 as they head into the bye week. The Chiefs moved to 4-0 with the win.
From the start, the underdog Lions came out swinging, showing an early commitment to the run game and a willingness to push the ball downfield with the passing attack. Kerryon Johnson carried the ball six times and Stafford completed two throws for 52 yards, but the drive stalled deep in Chiefs territory leaving the Lions to settle for a 25-yard Matt Prater field goal and a 3-0 lead.
That would be the first of three trips inside the 10 where the Lions didn't finish in the end zone and the only one of the three where the team came away with points.
Leaning on little-known tight end Deon Yelder, the Chiefs responded with a long drive of their own, but they too stalled in red zone. Instead of tying the contest, Harrison Butker's 26-yard field goal sailed wide right.
Taking advantage of the miscue, Detroit quickly worked its way back into Chiefs territory, aided by a face mask call against the Chiefs. A 33-yard completion to Marvin Jones put the Lions in the red zone, and on third-and-4, Stafford found rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson in the back of the end zone, putting the Lions up 10-0 after the extra point.
Continuing an early bend-don't-break performance, the Lions again allowed the Chiefs to drive deep into their territory, but held despite first-and-goal from the 4. Nickel corner Justin Coleman came up with the big play on third down, punching the would-be touchdown free from the grasp of receiver Sammy Watkins in the end zone.
A 23-yard Butker field goal cut the Lions' lead to seven.
Following the field goal, the two defenses stepped up to force three consecutive punts early in the second quarter before the Chiefs tied the contest at 10. A 39-yard run by LeSean McCoy opened the possession and he finished the series by punching it in from a yard out on third-and-goal.
A pair of field goals in the final two minutes of the half sent the teams into the locker room tied at 13.
The third quarter was marked by poor security control for both teams, with the two sides combining for five lost fumbles. That started with the Chiefs coughing up the kickoff to open the second half. Jamal Agnew punched the ball free from Chiefs return man Mecole Hardman and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovered the loose ball.
The Lions quickly worked into the red zone and appeared to score when Golladay hauled in a pass around the cornerback in coverage, but a replay review showed the ball moving as Golladay landed out of bounds leading to the officials reversing the call on the field.
"I just got to control it all the way, there was a little bobble going on," Golladay said.
On the next snap, disaster struck. As Stafford attempted to elude pressure, he was stripped and the Chiefs recovered, ending the threat.
"I was trying to do too much, probably. I probably should have just thrown it away a little bit earlier," Stafford said. "I thought Marvin Hall had a chance in the back of the end zone — at least a chance to throw it away. I probably should have just eaten it for a sack right there. Third-and-goal, the chance of making the play are not so good. The chances of Prater making a chip-shot field goal are probably really good."
Five plays later, the Lions stole possession back. This time, defensive end Trey Flowers punched the ball free from Williams and it was recovered by A'Shawn Robinson, giving Detroit possession at the Kansas City 28.
A 26-yard J.D. McKissic run gave the Lions first-and-goal at the 1, but Johnson lost the ball attempting to extend it over the goal line in the middle of a pile of bodies.
While many players stopped, expecting a whistle, Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland scooped the loose ball off the goal line and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, which was ultimately upheld by replay.
"The officials ruled on the field that they did not see the ball carrier down," Al Riveron, NFL vice president of officiating, said after the game. "They did not see a body part other than the hand or foot down. The ball comes loose and then the ball was picked up by Kansas City, No. 21. He was not touched after he possessed the football. There was no whistle on the play, and he runs it back for a touchdown."
The Lions dampened the momentum swing by countering with a 53-yard Prater field goal, cutting the Chiefs lead to 20-16, and another Chiefs fumble on the ensuing possession put the Lions in position to retake the league.
Coleman punched the ball free from Watkins and recovered the ball, giving Detroit's offense possession near midfield.
The Lions' four forced fumbles brought the total to eight on the young season.
"They’re doing a great job of talking and working through some of the details of that stuff," Patricia said. "I think as the season goes, obviously, then teams do a much better job of taking care of the ball."
A 12-yard Johnson run, 11-yard Stafford scramble and a first-down catch by Hockenson set the Lions up first-and-goal from the 8, although Hockenson was injured on the play, landing on his head while attempting to hurdle a defender.
After an incomplete pass and a McKissic run that lost a yard, Stafford threaded a bullet between four defenders to Golladay, running a post route from the slot, putting the Lions back up, 23-20.
"(The window) was closing quick," Stafford said. "He ran a great route and I just trusted it to a spot and he got there. ... You don't cut that ball loose if I don't trust he's going to make that catch. And he probably doesn't run in there with all those bodies without knowing that I'm going to try and protect it and get it to him."
The lead was short-lived as the Chiefs drove 75 yards in nine plays. Fueled by an improvised lateral from tight end Travis Kelce to McCoy, gaining a total of 33 yards.
"It’s never crossed my mind to do that except for right there, to be honest," Kelce said. "Maybe a couple times previously, you watch a play and are like, ‘Oh man, if I just hooked it, pitched it to him, we would’ve had a huge play.’ Hats off to Shady (McCoy) for being ready and making a play, and Pat (Mahomes) for improvising to jump it off."
A Mahomes' scramble and a neutral zone infraction set up Williams his first touchdown, a one-yard plunge to put the Chiefs back in front, 27-24 with 12:12 remaining, setting the scene for the frenzied finish.
The Lions will return from the bye on the road, with a Monday night showdown against the Green Bay Packers (3-1).