Games like this have fans and analysts alike scrambling to find someone to blame. The first three and a half quarters had us celebrating the heroes, while the final seven minutes had us searching for where it all went wrong -- and how the Raiders went from being up 27-14 over the Lions to losing 28-27.
But before I get to holding the guilty parties accountable for this collapse, I am left with the uneasy task of pointing out those who played well enough to win, despite those who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
This was a difficult decision. His fumble late in the third quarter was what left me in a quandary. But in the scheme of the game, the fumble turned out not to be a deciding factor. Sure, he would have put the Raiders in scoring position had he held onto the ball, but the Lions got the ball at their own eight yard line and the Raider defense stopped them at the 20 yard line after just one first down. Then the Raiders immediately put together a drive and kicked a field goal anyway. On the Lions' next possession the Raiders forced a fumble for a touchdown.
Outside of the fumble, DHB had a fantastic game. He finished with 8 catches for 155 yards including a masterful 43 yard touchdown. He showed a bit of everything on the touchdown catch. He leapt in the air and caught the ball cleanly, took a hit and held on, broke a tackle, and sprinted to the end zone. It was arguably the best catch he has made as a pro due to all the variables involved. He also laid the key block that sprung Marcel Reece on a 26 yard run in the first quarter that set up the Raiders' first touchdown. He did have a drop in this game but it came with a few ticks left on the clock and the Raiders without a timeout. If he had caught it, he would have been tackled in the middle of the field and the Raiders would not have had time to get to the line to spike it in time to attempt a field goal.
He punted five times and three of them were stopped inside the 20 yard line. One of them was a perfect 46 yard sky shot that landed at the five yard line and bounced to the one and a half yard line where the Raider coverage team downed it. It was the perfect punt at the time the Raiders needed it most. Lechler did his part. Unfortunately the Raider defense did not, and the Lions drove 98 (and a half) yards down the field to win the game.
The Raider workhorse was pulling that plow again in this game. He touched the ball 25 times for 139 yards from scrimmage. That was 18 rushes for 77 yards and 7 catches for 62 yards. The Raiders got the ball with 1:14 left in the first half and were looking to break a 14-14 tie and they gave it to Bush. On the drive he had a 12 yard screen, a 10 yard screen, and finished it off with a 7 yard run to set up a Janikowski field goal and a 17-14 Raider lead heading into halftime.
He had two of the biggest plays in this game. The first came late in the third quarter with the Lions lining up to go for it on fourth down and one. They had tried to pick up the first down on third and one and Kelly was in amongst a mob of Raider defenders to stop the Lions for no gain. Then they tried again and Kelly and company stuffed them again. In total, the Lions were held to just 57 yards on the ground.
The play of the day for the Raiders was when Kelly came around the edge on third and 10 from the Detroit 14 yard line to strip sack Matt Stafford. He just reached out and grabbed Stafford's wrist so he was unable to move his arm forward and then yanked the ball out of his hand. Aaron Curry then picked up the ball and ran it in for the touchdown. It would give the Raiders a 27-14 lead with 7:47 left in the game. It should have been a 28-14 lead but we'll get into that later.
He led the team in tackles (7-2) including a tackle for loss and a sack. He added a hit on Stafford as well. The big Calvin Johnson catch that set up the game winner came with him in coverage but that never should have been the case. Expecting a middle linebacker to cover the best receiver in the game is asking too much. It wasn't the first time in this game he was asked to cover Megatron. He did reasonably well in those situations, all things considered.
Palmer was another difficult decision for the Baller list. His numbers were great. He completed 32 0f 40 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown. That is 80% completion with a 113.2 QB rating. On the other hand, he had three key incompletions in this game. He overthrew Denarius Moore and DHB in the end zone and overthrew Chaz Schilens on a third and three play that would have ended the game. He also held the ball too long and took a sack on the Raiders' final drive when they were trying to get into scoring position. It resulted in a two yard loss and the :08 off the clock left the Raiders with just :13 at midfield.
If the first three quarters of this game in which Calvin Johnson put up season best numbers was the concerto, the final 2:14 of this game may just have been Bresnahan's swan song. The Lions were able to move the ball downfield thanks to some of the most ridiculous defensive scheming I can ever remember seeing. The Raiders were seen running a cover 2 style defense at times. That scheme in itself has been very successful. But first off, the Raiders don't have the right personnel for it. And second off, when a middle linebacker and a third string safety/special teamer are covering the best receiver in the NFL, you will have problems. Matt Stafford saw this matchup and threw an ugly rainbow to his All Pro receiver, knowing that he had a tremendous mismatch in his favor. The completion went 48 yards and set the Lions up at the Raider 13 yard line. They would score a touchdown a few plays later to win the game. And of course, on the touchdown catch the Raider defense again looked confused and Calvin Johnson was in single coverage.
That was the story all day, though other teams who have played the Lions discovered long ago that you double team Calvin Johnson, PERIOD. None of this single coverage, zone, or cover 2 crap. In the previous five games, Johnson was held to under 100 yards receiving with just one touchdown. The Lions went 2-3 in that time and one of those was a squeaker against the Vikings. The recipe is an easy one. But apparently being in the UFL the last few years, Bresnahan wasn't familiar with ole Megatron. This season his best game was 125 yards receiving. He blew that out of the water with 214 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including the game winner. The Raiders have been the NFL cure-for-what-ails-you for the better part of this decade. The first year of that opposing offense slump buster defense came with Bresnahan at the helm. And likely the last.
Here we go again. Last week's Buster list was headed up the same way. The two main criticisms of this game were the aforementioned 48 yard catch on the Lions' game winning drive and the Raiders not going for two on their final touchdown. It was past midway through the fourth quarter and the Raiders had scored a defensive touchdown to go up by 12 points. Hue Jackson opted to kick the extra point and go up 13 points. If you go for two, you go up by 14 points and when/if the Lions score two touchdowns, it is tied and we go to overtime.
Hue defended his decision after the game saying that he didn't think it was time to go for two. That statement makes zero sense. That was the ideal time to go for two points. He simply made the wrong call. He also said he didn't expect them to be able to go 98 yards to score. But you plan ahead for these possibilities by going for two, especially with a defensive coordinator who has given away games several times already this season and was bailed out a couple of other times. If they miss the two point conversion, they would have been in the exact same situation. No risk, high reward.
Then there was the call for Palmer to throw long on third and three on what could have been the Raiders' final drive. Sure, if he had completed the pass, we wouldn't be talking about it. But he didn't. Hence the reason why such a decision is a risky one. He gambled and lost. If the Raiders had picked up the first down, they could have run out the clock as the Lions had no timeouts left. Hue likes to say he "lives on the edge." Well, he has fallen over that edge the last few games and the Raiders have followed him over.
I realize Routt had a difficult task on Sunday. He was guarding the best receiver in the NFL much of the time. But if he were to have held him, I would be giving him all the credit in the world so I have to be fair. Routt did have three passes defended in this game. However, he also helped allow Calvin Johnson to have his 214 yard, two touchdown day. Routt was called for holding on the Lions' first touchdown drive before Megatron finished it off by getting behind the entire Raider defense for a 51 yard score. He later gave up a first down catch the play just prior to the Lions getting their second touchdown on a 39 yard catch and run. He was called for pass interference to start the Lions' third touchdown drive. Then on the Lions' big game winning drive he gave up an eight yard catch, was called for pass interference to give the Lions an automatic first and goal at the six yard line, and then was beaten by Johnson for the touchdown.
Too many times it has occurred that the opposing team gets a big catch with Boyd in the vicinity but making no play on the ball. When Calvin Johnson pulled down the 48 yard bomb, Boyd was charged with covering him deep. The pass hung up and was well short. If Boyd had just turned to play the ball, he could have knocked it down or likely intercepted it. Instead he just watched it land in the receiver's arms where he touched him down. That is not what safeties do. Yeah, it's a big job keeping Calvin Johnson in front of you. But when given a reprieve with an ugly ball that hangs in the air, that's why safeties exist.
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