PITTSBURGH -- It was a call that speaks to the mantra of a team: safe or aggressive. Take the points, or go for it all?
In Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Detroit Lions wanted it all. Early in the fourth quarter, they faced a fourth-and-5 on the Steelers' 10-yard line. The field goal was the safe play, the smart play.
Detroit lined up for the field goal, but instead of giving David Akers the chance to convert the chip shot and give them a 30-23 lead, the Lions called for the fake, and punter Sam Martin fumbled the ball while fighting for the first down.
So what if a field goal would have turned the Lions' four-point lead into a seven-point lead? If Martin had converted the first down or scored, Detroit would have had another big win in a season’s worth of aggressive play calls by head coach Jim Schwartz.
But in Sunday's 37-27 loss to the Steelers, it didn't turn out that way. Martin said he “got hit by a 350-pound man.” He fumbled. Pittsburgh recovered. Drove down the field. Scored. Took the lead. Won the game.
Schwartz didn’t second-guess the decision. He had no regrets. He wanted to put the game away. Instead, he played a part in putting his own team away for the day.
“It had to do with trying to make the plays to win the game. We didn’t make it. But look, you could say whatever you want,” Schwartz said. “Y’all say whatever you want about me, OK.
“Don’t say I’m scared. Cause we ain’t, OK? This team is going to be aggressive. We’re going to play our very best. We didn’t play well enough to win this game, OK. But it’s not because we’re passive or anything.”
If there is a defining characteristic about Schwartz and the Lions in second halves of games this season, it's aggressive calls. Schwartz wants his team to make plays. He’s done it with a style that has mostly worked, including a fourth-down sneak against Washington in Week 3 that worked and led to a Lions victory.
It’s the same type of mindset that helped the Lions to a come-from-behind win two games ago against Dallas and last Sunday against Chicago. Being aggressive is part of the makeup of this team.
Detroit's players had no problem with the call -- at least the ones who knew about it. Quarterback Matthew Stafford thought the Lions had botched the field goal attempt instead of it being a planned fake.
Even Pittsburgh’s players said after the game they understood why Detroit made the call.
“It was drawn up extremely well,” Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. “But when you’ve got guys that hustle to the ball on your front line the way we do, that’s how you stop things like that.”
Pittsburgh did. It helped in its victory.
One thing was clear about the Lions and how they felt publicly about the call: Every Detroit player in the locker room didn’t take issue with the call and how aggressive it was.
“It comes down to a mentality," Akers said. " ‘Are you going to play it safe or are you going to be aggressive and go after it?’ "
The aggressiveness has worked in the past and the future is still there for Detroit, although the way the Lions imploded in the second half is a definite cause for concern. The fourth-down fake field goal was somewhat emblematic of it Sunday.
The fake field goal was just part of a complete outage by Detroit in the second half. After Stafford threw for 327 yards in the first half, he completed three passes for 35 yards in the second. After Calvin Johnson had six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, he was targeted only three times and caught no passes for no yards in the second. Reggie Bush had 54 total yards and lost a fumble.
The Detroit defense struggled to stop Pittsburgh all day. Ben Roethlisberger threw for four touchdowns and passed for 367 yards. After the fake field goal, the Lions gave up a 97-yard drive, and touchdowns on the last two possessions of the game.
So Detroit’s problems Sunday weren’t necessarily with an aggressive play call but everything else surrounding it.
“If you’re not on your P’s and Q’s and the next man is, you’re going to look embarrassed, and that’s what happened today,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We had some embarrassing plays that shouldn’t have happened but when it all comes back to it, it wasn’t just a man beating us. It was missed tackles. Technique sound. Things of that nature.
“Those things are fixable. That’s what playoff teams do.”
For now, Detroit is still a playoff team. The Lions, even after this loss, are still tied for the division lead with Chicago. It's a team, though, that struggled a lot Sunday.
“I don’t know how much momentum we’re going to lose from this,” center Dominic Raiola said. “Going back home with Tampa coming into town, everything’s right in front of us.
“You know, we’re not, we don’t need a State of the Union. It’s just a loss. We lost, you know. They got us. Just bounce back like we do after every loss.”