'They defended it well': Jumbo mistake at end sends Lions below .500
Oakland, Calif. — On a day where the Lions had an opportunity to gain ground in both the NFC North and the wild-card races, the offense blew multiple scoring opportunities and the defense couldn't come up with a critical stop down the stretch in a 31-24 loss to the Raiders on Sunday.
With an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds, Matthew Stafford's fourth-and-goal pass to tight end Logan Thomas was broken up in the end zone.
"It was a play we worked on quite a bit," Stafford said. "They defended it well."
On the deciding play, the Lions went to a jumbo package from the 1-yard line with no receivers and two tight ends. Stafford faked a handoff and dropped back to pass, but the Raiders were able to get pressure on the quarterback, and his floating pass to Thomas was knocked away.
"We've always got a couple plays on the sheet that we can go to in that situation," coach Matt Patricia said. "That one, being so close down in there, we thought drew the most attention."
The failed attempt left Derek Carr's 9-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow with 2:04 remaining as the difference.
Stepping around the pressure of Lions defensive end Trey Flowers, Carr rolled to his left as Renfrow utilized traffic in the end zone to shake cornerback Justin Coleman's coverage, resulting in a the toe-tapping touchdown grab near the left sideline.
"Hunter did a great job with staying alive with me, running to the front pylon and giving me (somewhere) to put the football," Carr said. "Hunter is very smart and knows how to get open."
The Lions fall to 3-4-1 on the season, failing to gain any ground on the Packers and Vikings, who both lost on Sunday.
The wild ending built off an equally wild first half, where the only thing that slowed down either offense were turnovers. The Lions and Raiders combined for 31 points and 515 yards through two quarters.
The Lions took the opening kickoff and quickly worked across midfield when wide receiver Kenny Golladay caught a shallow cross on third down and turned it into a 28-yard gain. But the scoring threat quickly died when running back J.D. McKissic coughed up a handoff that was recovered by Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
Even after the game, Stafford still wasn't sure what happened on the play.
"I've got to check it out because I was asking him and he was asking me," Stafford said. "It was not one of those where I felt like I hit an elbow, a hand or whatever. It wasn't clean."
Behind the strong running of rookie back Josh Jacobs, the Raiders converted the turnover into seven points. Racking up 46 yards on seven carries, he capped the series by bouncing around the left edge for a 2-yard touchdown.
Jacobs finished the day 120 yards on 28 carries.
"That's another team that ran for a whole lot of yards on us." linebacker Devon Kennard said, hinting at Detroit's season-long struggles defending the run.
The lead was short-lived as the Lions put together a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in response. Receiver Marvin Jones pulled down a contested deep ball from Stafford for a 47-yard gain down to the Raiders 3-yard line, but the Lions struggled to punch it in with three tries.
Instead of settling for a short field goal, Patricia made the call to go for it on fourth down and was rewarded for the risk when Stafford found Jones in the back of the end zone for the 2-yard score.
A botched snap on third down deep in Lions territory left the Raiders to settle for a 32-yard Daniel Carlson field goal early in the second quarter, setting up the Lions to take their first lead of the day.
Fighting through a pair of holding penalties, Stafford connected twice with Jones for 34 yards before hooking up with Golladay on a deep pass along the left sideline out of play action. Making the grab near the 20-yard line, the receiver dodged a tackle attempt by Raiders safety Erik Harris to cross the goal line and put the Lions up, 14-10.
The teams traded blown opportunities with the Raiders coughing it up on downs in Lions territory before safety Daryl Worley ripped one away from Golladay for an interception in the end zone on the ensuing possession.
"I'm taking that shot," Stafford said. "I'm taking that shot 10 times out of 10 to Kenny. Guy made a great play. Wish we would have come up or I had thrown a better ball to give us a chance to score."
Making the most of the second forced turnover, Oakland drove 80 yards to regain the lead. Two big plays on third down — a 21-yard pass to tight end Darren Waller and a 16-yard dart from Carr to Tyrell Williams — set up Jacobs' second touchdown run, a 3-yard plunge running behind fullback Alec Ingold around the left edge.
The Lions had a chance to answer before the half, but after working across midfield on a long completion to tight end T.J. Hockenson, Stafford was sacked on third down, killing the remaining time on the clock.
It appeared the game would have its first punt to start the third quarter, but the Raiders ran a fake. They handed the ball off to tight end Derek Carrier, who rumbled for a 27-yard gain.
"I was pretty nervous," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "We felt we had a chance to pull it off and credit to (assistant coach Rich) Bisaccia. He's one of the best special teams coaches in football."
Unfortunately for the Raiders, the effort was for naught as Carlson missed a 45-yard field goal.
That opened the door for the Lions to tie it. Jones' full-extension grab on third down extended the possession and three McKissic carries for a combined 35 yards set Detroit up inside the 10 before the drive stalled and Matt Prater came in for the 23-yard chip shot.
The Raiders recaptured the lead, 24-17, with a nine-play, 80-yard possession that ended with a 3-yard scoring strike from Carr to rookie tight end Foster Moreau early in the fourth quarter.
That touchdown was set up by a pair of long passes late in the third quarter. Carr connected with Williams for 22 yards to covert a third-and-6 and immediately followed it up with a 34-yard throw down the seam after receiver Marcell Ateman got behind the coverage of linebacker Jarrad Davis.
It wasn't until after this score, with 11:42 remaining in the game, we saw the first punt.
Instead of going for it on fourth-and-10 from the Raiders' 39, Patricia opted to kick it away, only to see Sam Martin's effort bounce into the end zone for a touchback. The Raiders returned the favor, going three-and-out when Carr was sacked on third down by Flowers.
It marked the first time Carr was sacked in the past five games, while it was Flowers' third sack in the past two weeks.
The teams continued to exchange punts until the Lions managed to tie the game with 5:16 remaining.
After the Raiders drew a 15-yard flag for interfering with Jamal Agnew's fair catch attempt, a 19-yard screen pass to Hockenson put the Lions into Oakland territory.
After a pair of runs, including a nifty blind flip on an end around to receiver Marvin Hall provided the Lions a fresh set of downs, Stafford found McKissic, out of the backfield, for a 26-yard touchdown toss.
But, as they've done many times this season, the defense couldn't get a stop when they needed it, as the Raiders drove 75 yards to regain the lead with 2:04 remaining. Running back Jalen Richards had catches for 31 and 25 yards, setting up the 9-yard touchdown pass to Renfrow.
The Lions managed to work deep into Raiders territory after Raiders cornerback Nevin Lawson was flagged for pass interference on Golladay inside the 10-yard line. But the offense couldn't finish the drive.
Stafford finished 26 of 41 passing for a season-high 406 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. Jones had eight catches for 126 yards and Golladay racked up 132 yards on four grabs.
Carr completed 20 of 31 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.