After losing two games in a row, the Raiders needed to finish the season strong to remain in the playoff race. But first they needed to finish a game strong. And as if a microcosm of the season, the Raiders collapsed in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders struck first in this game and they did it with the help of a few big penalties called on the Lions. It was a role reversal of sorts for the Raiders who lead the league in penalties. Three straight penalties set up a Louis Murphy touchdown run on a reverse from 12 yards out.
The lead wouldn’t last long, though, as the Lions marched right down the field to answer with a touchdown of their own. The big play was a 51 yard touchdown strike to Calvin Johnson. The long catch would be foreshadowing for things to come.
The Raiders and Lions would trade touchdowns in the second quarter as well. The Raiders’ touchdown would come first, on an impressive 43 yard catch and run for a touchdown by Darrius Heyward-Bey. On the catch, he leapt in the air and took a hit but held onto the ball, then he raced to the end zone. The Lions’ touchdown also came on a long pass that went 39 yards to tie it up at 14. The Raiders were able to put together a good drive and add a field goal to go up 17-14 at halftime.
To begin the third quarter, the Raiders were putting together a nice drive but it would stall just out of field goal range. Later in the third, with the Lions in third and one, the Raider defense stopped the Lions for no gain twice to turn the ball over on downs. The Raiders got the ball back near midfield and were threatening when Carson Palmer hit DHB across the middle for a big gainer. But as he was fighting for more yardage, he was hit and fumbled the ball to give the Lions the ball back.
The defense held strong and the Raiders would get the ball back to drive into Lions territory where Janikowski hit a 51 yard field goal.
The Raiders stopped the Lions at their own 14 yard line on the return and two plays later, Tommy Kelly got into the backfield to strip sack Matt Stafford. Aaron Curry recovered the fumble at the six yard line and ran it in for the touchdown. The touchdown put Hue Jackson in a position to make a decision on whether to kick the extra point or go for two for a chance at a 14 point lead. He opted to kick the extra point and take a 27-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Hue defended his decision.
“There’s a time to go for two and there’s a time… to me, I thought going for one in that situation is the right thing to do.”
The question becomes, if not late in the fourth quarter, when would be a good time to go for two? The decision not to try for the two point conversion this late in the game would ultimately play a large role in the outcome. The Lions drove the ball right down the field on the next series to pull within a touchdown of the lead as opposed to just a tie at 27-21.
The Raider offense would need to eat up some clock and score in order to seal the win. The drive started well and then stalled near midfield when on third and three, Palmer’s pass sailed long on Chaz Schilens. The Raiders needed a great Lechler punt to pin the Lions deep and that is exactly what they got. He punted it high in the air and it landed inside the ten and dribbled to the two yard line. The Lions would need to go 98 yards with 2:14 left and no timeouts. It was then up to the Raider defense.
The drive began moving slowly, but like so many times this season and in this game already, it was a long completion that did the Raiders in. With 1:33 left, Stafford threw a deep ball that looked like it was ripe for an interception but the defenders closest to Calvin Johnson were middle linebacker Rolando McClain and backup safety, Jerome Boyd. Calvin Johnson came down with an uncontested 48 yard catch to put the Lions at the Raider 13 yard line with :53 left in the game.
“Go make that play,” said Hue of the coverage on the catch. “It isn’t a scheme issue. The ball’s laying up in the air, you gotta go make that play when you’ve got an opportunity. Their guy made it and we didn’t.”
Two plays later, it was another touchdown catch by Calvin Johnson in the back of the endzone to put the Lions up by one point 28-27.
The Raiders would have 35 seconds and two timeouts to try and get into field goal range and win the game. After two completions put the Raiders at midfield, a sack, and a drop by DHB cut the drive short. Then with four seconds left in the game, Janikowski was sent in to attempt a would-be NFL record 65 yard field goal. The snap was high, Janikowski’s kick was low and it was blocked by Ndamukong Suh to end the game.
This is a crushing loss for the Raiders as they were in need of a win to pull even with the Broncos for the division. They had slim hopes anyway, but they needed to win to have a good chance.
Calvin Johnson came into this game in a five game slump in which he hadn’t cracked 100 yards and had just one touchdown in that time. He had outplayed any of those games by halftime with 119 yards and a touchdown. His best game of the season was 125 yards and a touchdown. He blew that out of the water with 219 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including the game winner.
Hue spoke on the Lions’ late game winning drive after the game:
“A team just went 98 yards and found a way to win. We had chances to win the game. We didn’t make a play down the right sideline late in the game and they found a way to make it. The disappointing part is their best player, he won the game for them. Between the quarterback and Calvin Johnson, 214 yards and two touchdowns, that’s how you lose. It’s very frustrating.”
Aside from the general anger and disappointment in the locker room after the game, the players seemed to be collectively mum. But Tyvon Branch did a good job summing it up.
“We knew we had to win that one,” said Branch, holding back frustration. “[We] fought hard, fought hard, fought hard and let it slip. These are the games that hurt. These are the games you remember and they hurt for a long time.”
The Raiders head to Kansas City next week where they will face the Chiefs who, led by new quarterback Kyle Orton, ended the Packers’ undefeated season. They finish the season at home against the resurgent Chargers. Meanwhile, the division leading Broncos, who lost to the Patriots today, face the fading Buffalo Bills next week and end the season against the Chiefs. The Raiders need to win and have the Broncos lose to the Chiefs at the end of the season to tie for the division lead. All other playoff scenarios involve a wildcard spot for which they are fighting with several other AFC teams.
If the Raiders are indeed watching the playoffs in January, it will be the final minutes of this game that will haunt them all offseason.
|Detroit Lions (9-5-0)||Oakland Raiders (7-7-0)|
|K. Vanden Bosch||2-0||1.0||0||0|
|D. Van Dyke||0-1||0.0||0||0|