| The Detroit News
Detroit — Stick a fork in this Detroit Lions team, it’s done.
This time, a national-television audience got a firsthand look at Detroit’s ineptitude in a 41-25 Thanksgiving Day thrashing at the hand of the Houston Texans.
The defeat, the team’s fourth in five games, now shifts the focus to owner Sheila Ford Hamp, who must decide whether to make the fan-appeasing decision to fire coach Matt Patricia over the long holiday weekend or allow him to be, seemingly, a lame duck through the end of the year.
“My focus every day is on the guys in that locker room and working as hard as I can to help those guys be successful,” Patricia said, when asked about his future after the game. “It’s really not outside of that. I don’t think outside of that, I don’t worry outside of that other than just trying to do the best job I can every day to help everybody be successful and try to get our team going.”
After getting shut out for the first time in 11 years last weekend, the Lions actually wasted little time getting on the scoreboard in this one. Set up by a well-executed trick play, running back Adrian Peterson was able to plunge into the end zone from a yard out to put the home team up 7-0 in the early going.
Peterson’s plunge was made possible by a 51-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson on a reverse flea flicker. The excess motion prior to the pass put the Texans defense in a bind, leaving the tight end wide open down the field.
The Detroit defense also had a strong start, forcing Houston to punt on its first two possessions, before things started to rapidly come undone.
Starting an eight-play stretch where the Lions turned the ball over three times, quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted by All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who made the leaping snag at the line of scrimmage and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s not the play call,” Stafford said. “I probably could have just kept progressing through (the reads) and get to somebody else. Thought we out-flanked them in the flat quickly and he just made a great play. Obviously, still can’t do that, but he’s a great player and has done that quite a few times. That’s what he’s great at. Have to avoid it.”
A missed extra point left the Texans down by one.
On the ensuing possession, running back Jonathan Williams, handling his first carry in a Lions uniform, lost a fumble after the ball was jarred loose by rookie defensive tackle Ross Blacklock.
The Texans needed just three plays to turn the takeaway into a touchdown. Faking a handoff to running back C.J. Prosise, quarterback Deshaun Watson rolled out of the pocket and connected with Prosise for a short touchdown, putting Houston up 13-7.
It looked as if the Lions were set to respond, driving deep into Texans territory before Kerryon Johnson fumbled on the first play of the second quarter.
“Credit to Houston defense, of course, but it’s the National Football League and when you turn the ball over three times it’s hard to come back from that, especially when you are giving away points, as well,” Peterson said. “It was very critical for us.”
But showing why the Texans came into the contest with a similarly disappointing record, they gave the ball right back when Prosise was stripped by linebacker Jamie Collins and Jahlani Tavai jumped on the loose ball.
Four plays later, aided by a defensive penalty against Houston, Peterson scored his second touchdown of the day, again from a yard out, putting the Lions back on top, 14-13.
That lead was short-lived as the Texans took advantage of a kickoff that went out of bounds, followed by a defensive pass interference penalty against cornerback Desmond Trufant to quickly cross midfield.
Facing first-and-20 after a holding call, Watson found Duke Johnson for a 33-yard touchdown down the left sideline. The running back split out wide before the snap and caused Collins to hesitate in coverage on the vertical route with a stutter step, creating the necessary separation.
After the Lions were forced to punt, the Texans extended their lead to nine, 23-17, with a 42-yard field by from Ka’imi Fairbairn before the half.
The Lions opened the second half with nine consecutive running plays. Peterson gained 40 yards on five carries, with Johnson adding 19 more on the next four snaps. After Stafford scrambled for a first down, the Lions busted out another trick play.
Flipping the ball to Jamal Agnew on an end-around look, Stafford ran a wheel route down the left sideline. The throw from Agnew was perfect, but Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus recognized the play and had tight coverage on the quarterback.
Stafford nearly made the catch anyway, but a review showed he wasn’t able to hold on to the ball through contact with the ground. That led to a 29-yard Matt Prater field goal, pulling the Lions back within six.
Detroit’s defense couldn’t keep it that way, though. A 38-yard pass from Watson to Will Fuller did most of the damage before another red-zone holding call caused Houston to stall out and settle for a short Fairbairn field goal, making it 26-17 late in the third quarter.
Following a Lions punt, Watson and the Texans drove the dagger into the heart of the Lions, and potentially Patricia’s coaching tenure. Needing just six plays to go 85 yards, Watson connected on throws of 19, 18 and 9 yards before dropping a perfect deep ball over the inside shoulder of Fuller for a 40-yard score.
“Deshaun is a tremendous athlete, leader, had good weapons that he can use whenever he chooses to, and he spreads the ball around many times,” Texans coach Romeo Crennel said. “Then, you have to give some credit to the guys up front here again. Those guys, if they give him time, he’s able to make the plays. Guys can get open and he can hit him. He has that kind of accuracy.”
A successful 2-point conversion left the Lions down 17, three scores, with 12 minutes remaining.
Pouring salt into Detroit’s wounds, the Texans quickly got the ball back and dialed up a trick play of their own. After taking a hand-off heading right, Johnson threw the ball back to Watson across the field, who delivered a downfield strike to an open Fuller for a 34-yard touchdown to complete the Texans’ onslaught.
“That’s something that we wanted an exact look and really when I called the play,” Watson said. “Duke looked at me and was like, ‘Hey, if we’ve got pressure, I’m going to keep it and I’m not going to pitch it back.’ So that’s why he kind of carried the ball a little bit longer than he was supposed to. And when he kept it, I just called him, ‘Hey, Duke, Duke!’ I was yelling his name, and he just turned around and threw it back to me.”
That capped an exceptionally efficient day for the Houston quarterback, who completed 17 of his 25 throws for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Fuller was the big beneficiary, hauling in six of his seven targets for 171 and the two scores.
With the outcome all but decided, the Lions added a meaningless touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Stafford to Mohamed Sanu with 6:37 remaining. Sanu also hauled in the 2-point conversion.
Stafford finished 28 of 42 for 295 yards. Peterson carried 15 times for 55 yards and Johnson had 11 rushes for 46 yards. Hockenson led the receivers with five catches for 89 yards.
The loss drops the the Lions to 4-7 on the season. The team will head out on the road to play Chicago on Dec. 6. The Texans, winners of three of their last four, improve to 4-7 ahead of a divisional matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.