Unnecessary roughness penalty begins Lions' descent to doom
Detroit — When a football team loses by 20 points, it’s hard to point to any singular moment on defense as the reason for defeat.
But a personal foul on Detroit Lions defensive tackle Danny Shelton after a third-down sack in the second quarter certainly swung the momentum in a dramatic way.
And the Lions, against a superior opponent, predictably fell victim to that mistake, in what’d be a 41-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Ford Field on Sunday.
Shelton did a great job of helping the Lions collapse the pocket on Philip Rivers for a loss of 7 — potentially pushing the Colts out of field-goal range — but then decided to pull Rivers down once the play was blown dead.
A scrum formed. A flag came down late. And Indianapolis capitalized on the 15-yard penalty by punching it in to take a 14-7 lead, which the Lions (3-4) never fully appeared to bounce back from.
“It hurts as a team, because obviously you see, we should have been off the field,” safety Duron Harmon said. “To get beat like that, it’s tough.”
The Lions’ offense to that point had done little to stay on the field — it ran just 12 plays to that point, with just under 7:00 left in the half — marking the stop a major win for the exhausted Detroit defense. That is, until the penalty, which Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland believes showed a harsh double standard.
“Some of this stuff is getting ticky-tacky out here,” Ragland said. “It’s going to be pushing and shoving, but you don’t have to throw the flag all the time.”
The personal foul for unnecessary roughness came after players from both teams got in some extracurricular activity — one of those s being Rivers, whom Ragland said grabbed him “like he’s crazy.”
“If I would have grabbed (Rivers), it would have been a penalty,” Ragland said. “Just because he’s a quarterback, that doesn’t mean nothing? Come on, now. It is what it is, it’s an offensive league.”
The force that led to “unnecessary roughness” could be described as iffy, but Shelton did continue to pull Rivers down after multiple whistles. Referee Clay Martin said the flag would have been thrown immediately, had the ensuing scrum not diverted his attention.
“I had blown the play dead for forward progress where I thought the quarterback was stopped,” Martin said. “And then I felt that (Shelton) unnecessarily continued on with him. And at about the time I’m processing that, the scrum starts. So, my attention went immediately to breaking up the chaos, if you will, and I threw my flag late.”
Still, though, the penalty is not an excuse for a defense that gave up five touchdowns. Ragland knows this.
“We can’t have penalties. Simple as that,” Ragland said.
But it is indicative of a team that plays without discipline, and an example of why the Lions’ locker room always feels as if it’s one or two plays away from churning out a different result against a better team, even in multi-score games like this one.
“We had chances to get off the field and we just didn’t do it,” Harmon said. “We hurt ourselves. Penalties, not communicating like we need to, wide-open receivers downfield, we can’t do that. It’s already hard enough to play a team like the Colts, who are not only fundamentally sound, but good at all three levels of the team.”
Until one of Detroit’s opponents starts describing the Lions like Harmon described the Colts, it’s hard to imagine this team punching above its weight class.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.