ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Detroit Lions trudged off the field late Sunday afternoon, some faster than others, all pretty quickly. There wasn’t much else to do after a loss that effectively ended their season with two games remaining.
A chance at the playoffs: extinguished. A third consecutive winning season, something the franchise hadn't accomplished since the mid-1990s: no longer possible. Another year ending in disappointment after a 14-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“It sucks. It just sucks knowing that we’re not going to the playoffs,” safety Glover Quin said. “That’s what everybody plays the game for, to have an opportunity to get in the tournament, you know. When you get eliminated, it just sucks, you know.
“It’s kind of like, heck, the season’s not over. Still got two games left to play, you know. Just not going to the playoffs. We owe it to our fans to go out next week, get a win and then, you know, going to Green Bay. Both of those are division opponents so we got to play those guys next year, so good to go get a win and go into the offseason with good momentum.”
Sure, but what happens over the next two weeks is for a different discussion and a different day. Right now the Lions (5-9) are trying to figure out how they got here. And Sunday was a bunch of issues old and new.
The offense, put together by duct tape, glue and players unaccustomed to their roles over the past three weeks, was essentially ineffective other than a career-high 146 yards from receiver Kenny Golladay and decent running afternoons from Theo Riddick (eight carries, 47 yards) and Zach Zenner (10 carries, 45 yards). The playcalling, particularly late, was once again conservative when the Lions needed a score. Golladay’s production was close to two-and-a-half-times more than the rest of the Detroit's pass-catchers combined.
The defense, which improved over the past month, had some issues with defensive holding and pass interference -- four penalties called overall, two declined -- and couldn’t get off the field when it mattered most.
The unfamiliar was the failings on special teams. Matt Prater missed a 48-yard field goal try in the fourth quarter -- his first field goal miss in the fourth quarter or overtime since Week 15 of the 2015 season, a streak lasting almost three calendar years. He blamed himself for the mistake afterward, but it’s also the first time in his career he’s missed a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter or overtime. He’s 91-of-97 for his career in the fourth quarter or overtime. Add to that, on the Lions' first touchdown of the game, a rare low snap on an extra point that led to an errant throw by punter Sam Martin instead of a likely-to-be-made extra point -- something particularly difficult in a one-point loss.
Overall, though, it was plays like those and mistakes at crucial times that beat Detroit all season long. Sunday just happened to be the latest in a string.
While coach Matt Patricia didn’t want to explain the summary of losses Sunday afternoon, he did say something similar to what he has after almost all of Detroit's nine losses.
“Not excited here about the outcome but just in general, just got to do a better job,” Patricia said. “Starts with me, better job of coaching, better job of going out and making sure we’re ready to go in some situations and we got to do a better job playing. It starts with me.”
Of that there is little question, because the biggest issue Detroit has had in 2018 -- more than the offensive playcalling gaffes or the lack of talent at certain positions or the special-teams errors that hadn’t been there in prior seasons -- has been consistency. A lot of that comes down to the players and to coaching.
“It wasn’t there,” safety Tavon Wilson said. “Just to be completely honest, I don’t know if we won two games in a row this year. We didn’t. We haven’t. You can’t call yourself a consistent team if you haven’t done that.”
The Lions have had back-to-back losses three times this season (one was a three-game losing streak). While technically they won two games in a row once (Week 5 against Green Bay and Week 7 against Miami), there was a bye in between, so victories in back-to-back weeks didn’t happen. Sure, they could win their final two games, but with the season essentially over that would not make the Lions a consistent team.
The last time they went without back-to-back winning weeks was 2009, when Matthew Stafford was a rookie and Detroit was coming off an 0-16 season.
All it really has done is left the Lions in a void of mediocrity -- again -- for yet another season. The coaches and general managers and players might change, but so many seasons in Detroit seem to end in the same way: wondering what went wrong, what the franchise could have done better and once again getting ready for next year.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Wilson said. “Obviously we felt like this isn’t what we set out to do at the beginning of the year, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. We have two more games to springboard us into next year.
“So have to take that approach.”