Lions’ Narrow Loss Shows They Aren’t Ready for Big Stage Just Yet

Jared Goff

Getty Jared Goff reacts after a safety in 2022.

The Detroit Lions cruised into a Thanksgiving Day battle against the Buffalo Bills winners of three straight and high on hopes of pulling off a major upset.

It was always going to take a major effort from the Lions to beat a team that is playoff tested and seemingly Super Bowl ready like Buffalo. In the end, the Lions didn’t have enough in the tank to outlast the Bills.

For most of the game, the Lions were there going toe to toe with a fantastic team. In big games, though, things come down to a matter of inches and small plays. Buffalo has been battle tested in those moments while the Lions have not.

As the young Lions continue to grow, they need to be in more games such as this in order to get over the hump. They have to put themselves in more positions to win close games against great teams in order to learn the ropes.

Coaching mistakes did cost the Lions in subtle ways, but players also have to execute. When they’re not used to being in elite moments, they have to learn how to win. The Lions have some roster realities with depth and injuries as well.

With this in mind, this game didn’t represent a typical fail for the Lions. Detroit wasn’t blown out and embarrassed. They fought a team that may go deep in the AFC playoffs tooth and nail until the end.

In time, the Lions hope to get there. It was a frustrating loss, but compared to where the Lions have been, it was a major step forward. Fans shouldn’t feel too bad about what happened in this Thanksgiving defeat as a result.

What else was learned from this losing but tough hunt? Here’s a look at some other lessons.

D’Andre Swift’s Goal Line Whiff Killed Detroit

While folks will obsess about the mistake that the Lions made on third and one with a poor pass and questionable decision making from the staff, the game may have been decided on the goal line in the third quarter.

D’Andre Swift had a chance to squeeze what would have been a huge touchdown that would have given the Lions a lead. Instead, he dropped the pass in the end zone harmlessly. A few plays later, the Lions bricked an easy 29 yard field goal that should have been automatic.

Swift could have been a difference maker with a score there, but he whiffed on it. It cost the Lions in a big way, and the loss of seven points first cost the Lions. It was an ugly flashback to when Swift had a game-winning opportunity against Chicago in 2020.

Detroit’s Alive and Well in the Playoff Race

In spite of the loss, the Lions still have a chance to be a factor in the NFC playoff race. Detroit doesn’t have as big a margin of error with seven losses as some teams, but their schedule will make them a factor down the stretch.

In Week 13, the Lions have Jacksonville. Then they play the Vikings at home, the Jets on the road, the Panthers at home and the Bears at home. That’s a very ripe stretch for the team.

Should Detroit bring this level of effort moving forward, they are going to remain in the hunt and still be fighters down the stretch of the season.

Jared Goff Didn’t Make Winning Plays for Lions

The Bills have an elite quarterback. The Lions have a decent quarterback. Elite quarterbacks win big games, while decent quarterbacks show well, but make just enough mistakes to frustrate.

This is where the Lions are at with Jared Goff right now. Goff is a good placeholder for the Lions, but it’s becoming clear he’s just a placeholder. The Lions need to find their version of Josh Allen in a player who can whip the ball deep and make winning plays with his legs.

Goff is a decent player, but decent doesn’t win titles. The team will need to fill Goff with talent around him to have a chance to win big with him. For now, they don’t look to have the horses to get it done.

Lions’ MVP: James Houston, Linebacker

Things only got better from there for Houston. The rookie broke through late in the first half and collected his first career sack of Josh Allen. The play took Buffalo out of touchdown range and forced a field goal.

Later on, Houston would get to Allen again, picking up a third quarter sack for the Lions defense when they needed it the most.

It was a big day for Houston, and a surprise for the Lions that was very welcome given the fact that the team hasn’t had a great season rushing the passer to this point. Perhaps he can change that.

Lions’ Key Stat of the Game

15, the yardage the Bills gained in the fourth quarter on a costly penalty to defensive end Austin Bryant. The defensive end took a critical penalty when he bashed Josh Allen and prolonged a Bills drive as a result.

With just three penalties on the day for 32 yards, the Lions played a tight game overall. Just under half of those yards were piled up on that play, though. That was awful for the Lions in a big moment, and proved why the Lions weren’t ready for prime time.

Lions’ Quote to Note

“I don’t feel like this is a step back, it’s a step forward.” -Dan Campbell. After the game, the Lions’ head coach didn’t feel like the team had embarrassed themselves at all. As he said, it was frustrating to lose, but the team managed to look like a much better outfit overall while showing well against a great team.

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