Turnovers tip Lions’ Thanksgiving game into the tub of holiday horrors

Detroit News

Nolan Bianchi
| The Detroit News

Detroit — It wasn’t a display to be proud of.

Especially not in front of a national audience, on a holiday that’s as intertwined with football as the Thanksgiving turkey itself.

The Detroit Lions choked on their own mistakes before most folks watching at home had the chance to serve appetizers, turning the ball over three in eight plays as a 7-0 lead turned to a 13-7 deficit for the home team over a 4-minute, 45-second span.

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Quarterback Matthew Stafford was the first victim of Houston’s defense, as he let go of a throw to the flat without realizing All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt was waiting with open arms for an easy pick-6.

“I probably could have kept progressing through (my reads) and get it to someone else,” Stafford said. “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. It’s what he’s great at, so, gotta avoid it.”

On the next play from scrimmage, Detroit failed to “avoid it” yet again. Jonathan Williams fumbled at his own 28 on his first snap at running back with the Lions, allowing for another swift Houston touchdown just 1:29 later.

As luck would have it, the Lions’ fourth consecutive loss on Thanksgiving Day would come by way of a two-touchdown deficit.

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So, what say you, Lions head coach Matt Patricia, about that stretch of disastrous play?

“We obviously know that turnovers are a big part of this game. Can’t have them,” Patricia said.

Well, he’s not wrong there.

The latter half of his answer to a question about how the turnovers affected his team was also technically true, but is disingenuous to the spirit of the question and the depth of the issue at hand.

“But (I) thought we went out and responded well on one level, good, got a turnover right back. That’s good to see, but we know we’ve got to be better than that. The ball is the most important thing.”

He’s referring to what occurred after the third turnover — a fumble by Kerryon Johnson in Houston territory — in which the Lions defense got the ball right back to end the threat of yet another drubbing.

Houston’s fumble was the only saving grace to this disaster of a sequence, as the Lions were able to get back on top, 14-13, after the fact. But make no mistake: This sequence defined the game.

“Three turnovers at the beginning of the game kills the momentum and makes it tough to come back from,” Stafford said. “You have too many mistakes, that’s what’s going to do you in.”

While it didn’t include a play that was anywhere near as humorous, this stretch does draw parallels to the 2012 Thanksgiving disaster by the New York Jets, in which the New England Patriots scored 21 points in 58 seconds on a sequence that included Mark Sanchez’s “Butt Fumble.” That turned out to be Sanchez’s final year in New York, and the beginning of the end of the Rex Ryan era.

But even by Lions standards, this sequence was quite a mess. The last time Detroit had turned the ball over three times was Week 11, 2012, which came in the middle of an eight-game losing streak to close the season 4-12.

The Lions, after beating Washington Football Team in Week 10 to go 4-5, have now lost two in a row, and are heading into the teeth of their schedule with competence nearing an eight-year low.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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