Opportunity lost: Lions' offense continues to struggle; Detroit falls to 0-9-1
Cleveland — New quarterback, same result.
In Tim Boyle's first NFL start, the Detroit Lions backup QB experienced many of the same struggles that have plagued the team's offense much of the year in a 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday.
Boyle finished 15-of-23 for 77 yards, tossing two interceptions as the Lions wasted multiple opportunities in the fourth quarter to secure the team's first win of the season.
"It was kind of a roller-coaster, at times emotionally," Boyle said. "... I felt really good about the plan,. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we didn't get the win and that falls on me. It really does. We'll be better for it. But we're looking forward to Chicago."
In wet conditions, sloppy play ruled the opening quarter. The two sides traded punts before swapping interceptions. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield served up the first turnover, sailing a pass over the head of receiver Jarvis Landry, which was easily corralled by cornerback Amani Oruwariye.
"Just right place, right time," Oruwariye said. "That’s all that was.”
It was Oruwariye's fourth interception on the season.
Despite starting at midfield and quickly working into field-goal range, the Lions (0-9-1) would hand it back to the Browns (6-5).
After an offensive pass interference penalty against receiver Josh Reynolds negated an Amon-Ra St. Brown catch into the red zone, Boyle found himself on a different page than running back D'Andre Swift, leading to the quarterback's pass landing in the hands of Browns linebacker Malcolm Smith.
"That falls on my patience with the play, being a little bit more patient and letting the route develop, so I'm not, don't want to say guessing, but I can do a better job of reading his body movements in certain choice routes," Boyle said. "I think he made the right choice and I can be more patient. Something I'll learn from and grow from."
Leaning on Nick Chubb to open the ensuing possession, the Browns netted 22 yards and a pair of first downs on four touches for the star running back. That set up two explosive gains in the passing game to the tight ends. David Njoku hauled in a 21-yard reception on a play-action bootleg from Mayfield before Austin Hooper gained another 20 into the red zone on a screen pass on the final snap of the first quarter.
For subscribers: Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Few chances taken, no reward reaped
The Browns opened the second quarter with Landry in the wildcat. The receiver looked to pass to his right, but the Lions had it covered. Instead, he scrambled through a lane up the gut, easily evading defensive lineman Michael Brockers en route to a 16-yard scoring run that put the Browns up, 7-0.
"It was not designed to do that," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I wish we did design it to do that so we could take credit for it. That is just a great player making a great play."
Detroit's offense remained stagnant throughout the opening half, mustering just 80 yards, while Cleveland extended their early advantage before the break with another lengthy touchdown drive.
Oruwariye had a particularly brutal series, allowing a 17-yard reception on third-and-13 at the start of the drive, before committing a pair of third-down penalties later in the possession.
“We always talk about the position we’re in as a team, we can’t afford to have any mistakes," Oruwariye said. "I know that’s unrealistic in the NFL, but that’s the standard we’ve got to have. Too many penalties in the first half. Third down, we couldn’t get off the field. We definitely were a lot better in the second half, but just maybe that little thing could have been the difference."
Following the second infraction, a defensive pass interference call, the Browns got back into the end zone with a 5-yard pass from Mayfield to Chubb. The extra point was blocked by rookie Levi Onwuzurike, leaving it 13-0 at the half.
The second half started similar to the first, with the Lions and Browns each punting away their first possession prior to a turnover.
Looking for Reynolds deep down the middle of the field, Boyle's pass proved to be just beyond the reach of his target, into the waiting arms of cornerback Denzel Ward.
"You got to get (the pass) inside just a little more, just a tick more," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "But there again, man, I would just love for Josh, if you don't come down with it, you knock it down. That's all."
Unlike the way the first half, the Lions defense wasn't able to return the favor, but the unit did come up with their first sack in three games, dropping Mayfield on third down and forcing a punt.
On the cusp of having another drive stall out shy of midfield, the Lions handed the ball to Swift on third-and-long. But the back was able to get around the right side of his line and turn upfield, weaving past both of Cleveland's safeties on his way to a 58-yard touchdown — the longest run of his career — cutting the Browns' lead to six late in the third quarter.
Swift went on to finish with a career-best 133 rushing yards, topping the 130 he posted a week ago against Pittsburgh.
"I feel like I’m not doing enough," Swift said. "We’re not winning. There’s always opportunities to get better. Look at the film and see where I could’ve scored again, where I could’ve done something else, got a few more yards."
Riding the momentum of Swift's shutout-snapping score, Detroit's defense forced its first three-and-out of the afternoon, while return man Kalif Raymond brought Cleveland's punt back 17 yards to give the Lions solid starting field position at their own 40.
Detroit quickly worked across midfield with back-to-back carries by Swift gaining 18 yards, but during the break between the third and fourth quarters, Lions guard Jonah Jackson was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, killing the possession.
"I should have never even put my team in that situation," Jackson said. "It was the heat of the moment, heat of the game. ...It was both sides (talking trash), you know what I'm saying, but definitely never should have been in that situation to begin with."
But again, the Lions' defense came up big. After the Browns shot themselves in the foot with a pair of penalties deep in their own territory, linebacker Alex Anzalone was able to making a leaping deflection of Mayfield's third-down pass, which was intercepted by rookie AJ Parker, giving Detroit's offense the ball back at Cleveland's 34.
"It was a hook/curl drop," Anzalone said. "It was a concept we knew they would run in that formation and I was able to break on the ball. I wish I would have came down with it because I felt like I had a little grass in front of me to maybe run and score. But I'm glad AJ was back there to clean it up."
Facing fourth-and-1, the Lions opted to play it conservative, settling for a 43-yard Aldrick Rosas field goal that made it 13-10 with a little over nine minutes remaining.
Clinging to the narrow lead, the Browns went back to Chubb, running it four straight times to start their possession, gaining 22 yards before back-to-back Mayfield incompletions led to a punt.
With a chance to tie the game or take the lead, Detroit opened up with a 24-yard catch-and-run to tight end T.J. Hockenson as the clock ticked under five minutes. That was the extent of the threat after a poorly executed screen pass to backup running back Godwin Igwebuike resulted in a 4-yard loss and left the Lions punting.
Cleveland kept it on the ground to seal the deal with Chubb carrying the ball four times for 33 yards, helping run out the clock.
"It was not perfect today, but it was a good way to finish the game," Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said.
The two-time Pro Bowler finished with 22 carries for 130 yards.
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