GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When does a tie feel like a loss? When you’re the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon, watching a double-digit lead over the Arizona Cardinals crater away and having to settle with knowing you didn’t win a game you should have.
Make no mistake about this one, it might not be that in the record, but it feels like more of a loss than when the team actually lost when they were annihilated by the New York Jets at Ford Field to open up last season. At least then, it was clear Detroit wasn’t prepared well enough and wasn't ready to play. This seems harsher. The Lions, for three quarters, were in clear control. They looked to be cruising to a season-opening win where the defense had been dominant and the offense done enough.
Then, in the span of less than 15 minutes, they fell completely apart. A combination of conservative playcalling on offense and softer coverage on defense turned an 18-point lead into a tie game. A sure Lions win became a knuckle-crunching overtime game where even a 27-27 tie with the Cardinals feels like a loss.
Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, who had not had a quarter completing more than 50 percent of his passes for the first 45 minutes, completed 15 of 19 passes in the fourth quarter, threw two touchdowns and brought the Cardinals back from football oblivion to tie Detroit with under a minute left.
It was a collapse, a completely brutal one, for the Lions. This was on track to be a win that set a good tone for a much-needed strong second season for head coach Matt Patricia. Instead, it brought back memories of last year and so many regimes past.
Then consider this: The Lions’ next four opponents -- the Chargers, Eagles, Chiefs and Packers -- all won this weekend. Three of the four put up at least 30 points and are some of the most dynamic offenses in football. The Cardinals might be that one day, but they aren’t yet.
Looking at what the Lions have coming up, they definitely have to be concerned that not only did they let one win slip away, but they could be in for a long month. Because while it doesn't come up as a loss on the ledger Sunday afternoon -- and that's a positive -- with the way the Lions played, it kind of felt like one.
Buy the stock of T.J. Hockenson: Seriously, gobble up any and all of the shares of him you can. Hockenson set a record Sunday with his six-catch, 131-yard performance, gaining more yards than any tight end in his debut since the NFL-AFL merger. He also added a touchdown and became the second player in Lions history to have a 100-yard game in his debut, joining wide receiver Earl McCullouch, who had 132 yards in 1968. He has been a favorite target of Matthew Stafford all camp long and showed why in his debut, making plays in the red zone and as a vertical threat.
Troubling trend: The offensive line play was not great -- something that mirrored what the Lions showed in the preseason. Left tackle Taylor Decker, who is expected to be the anchor of this line, appeared to give up two blindside sacks on Stafford leading to fumbles and also picked up at least four penalties, including two costly holding calls. Add in that the offensive line struggled to open holes for runners on far too many plays and the team’s continued rotation at both guard spots -- Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins and Graham Glasgow all were used throughout the course of the game -- and things still seem unsettled here heading into a rough part of their schedule.
Biggest hole in the game plan: When the Lions had what appeared to be complete control of the game in the third quarter, Detroit went with a too-conservative offensive game plan in the fourth quarter with a bunch of runs after play-action had been flustering Arizona all game long. Defensively, coverage appeared to grow soft, allowing Murray -- who had not completed 50 percent of his passes in any quarter before the fourth -- to complete 78.9 percent of his passes in the last quarter to eliminate an 18-point Detroit edge. That’s something that needs cleaning up.
QB Breakdown: No more concerns about Stafford’s rust. He made smart decisions, found open receivers and was still able to avoid pressure like the Stafford of a few years ago, using broken plays to turn big gains, including touchdowns to Danny Amendola and Hockenson. He completed 27 of 45 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns. He did this while being sacked twice and hit four other times. That doesn’t include the times he was pressured, either, leading to his improvisational techniques. On a night where the run game struggled, Stafford made sure the Lions scored enough to win and not waste a dominant defensive performance.