| The Detroit News
There is no mercy rule in the National Football League.
No white flags, either. Just some yellow ones that fly periodically, and a red one that’s kept in the back pocket for emergency use only.
Or in the case of Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, for adding insult to injury, which is what he and the Buccaneers were more than happy to do Saturday at Ford Field. And can you blame them?
The Lions walked into Ford Field with a sign taped to their back that read “Kick me,” so the Bucs merely did what the NFL essentially encouraged them to do by declining to postpone this game until Sunday. A delay likely would’ve allowed Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell and four of Detroit’s assistants to clear the COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols and return to the sidelines.
Instead, they were forced to watch in isolation as Tom Brady & Co. made quick work of the Lions in a runaway 47-7 rout, ending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought while adding another embarrassing chapter to a season that can’t end soon enough in Detroit.
And no matter how many backups the Lions were forced to use Saturday — be it the players on the field or the coaches on the sideline and in the press box — there would be no escaping that reality.
No pity party
“Obviously, it’s tough, man,” said David Blough, the Lions’ third-string quarterback who finished the game after starter Matthew Stafford hobbled off early — his season over? — and Chase Daniel proved ineffective in relief. “Nobody’s feeling sorry for us. Nobody cares that we’re down coaches or whatever situation we’re in. We’re supposed to go out there and produce. So it’s frustrating, the performance we put on display.”
Frustrating hardly begins to describe it, though. Because this was truly offensive, even for a team that has endured more than its share of indignities this season, from injuries to insubordination, and from a leadership purge after Thanksgiving to a quarantined controversy that played out over Christmas this week.
The 40-point margin of defeat was the largest for Detroit since a 48-3 loss at Baltimore in 2009. But, really, this was shades of the winless 2008 Lions that we saw Saturday, a team that looked completely overwhelmed and overmatched from the first snap. The 588 yards allowed Saturday were the most ever allowed by the Lions in a regulation game.
This was worse than the Lions’ midseason debacle against Kansas City in London that led to a front-office housecleaning in 2015. It was worse than the 2018 opener against the Jets in Matt Patricia’s head coaching debut, too. This was more like that Thanksgiving loss to the Titans on Thanksgiving in ’08, as the Lions’ march to 0-16 really hit its stride.
“On offense, we couldn’t stay on the field,” said Robert Prince, the Lions’ receivers coach who served as the acting head coach Saturday with Bevell still holed up in a Detroit-area hotel room after being deemed a high-risk close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. “And defensively, we couldn’t get off the field.”
And no offense, but this Lions defense was terrible even before its coordinator, Cory Undlin, and three of his position coaches on that side of the ball also were sidelined by the NFL’s medical protocols this week. That left Evan Rothstein, who has never been a position coach before, let alone a play-caller, calling the shots Saturday and trying to match wits with Arians and Brady, all while missing a handful of starters.
It went about as well as you’d expect.
The 43-year-old Brady, playing in his 300th NFL game, barely broke a sweat while posting the third perfect passer rating of his career. (The last came against — who else? — the Lions on Thanksgiving in 2010.) Brady completed 22 of 27 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns to stake the Bucs to a 34-0 halftime lead, then took a seat for the rest of the afternoon
Tampa Bay actually set franchise records for points (34) and yards (410) in the first half, and then the Lions somehow made it worse. Rookie running back D’Andre Swift was stopped for no gain on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, and Arians decided to throw a challenge flag after it appeared Swift fumbled on the play before his knee was down.
The challenge was successful, and with backup Blaine Gabbert replacing Brady, the Bucs’ offense didn’t miss a beat. Gabbert’s first play — his first completion since 2018, for that matter — was a 25-yard strike to an unblocked Rob Gronkowski up the seam for the touchdown.
From there, all that was missing was the running clock, as Gabbert kept taking shots downfield trying to get receiver Mike Evans an NFL-record seventh consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season to start his career and the Bucs’ defense kept dialing up the pressure trying to notch a shutout.
Jamal Agnew spoiled the latter with a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. But the Lions, who were just 1-of-10 on third-down conversions Saturday, didn’t cross midfield on offense until early in the fourth quarter, after Daniel had given way to Blough.
“We got our butts kicked today, and it’s no fun,” Daniel said. “I’ve been beaten like this before. and it’s never a fun feeling. It’s a game, but it’s what we do for a living. It’s our pride on the line, right? And we got our pride crushed today.”
Stafford’s day lasted all of one series after injuring his ankle on the Lions’ second play from scrimmage. He stayed in for another play, hopped on one leg to the locker room shortly after, and finished the game in street clothes on the sideline. Prince had no update on his status for the season finale against Minnesota at home next week, but there’s no good reason to subject Stafford — already playing with a damaged ligament in his thumb and torn rib cartilage — to any more abuse this season.
The only good news for Lions fans is that they won’t have much more of this to watch, either. Yet for the players and coaches, that’s not an option.
“So we’ve got to find out what we’re made of, in a quote-unquote meaningless game as far as the playoffs go, against Minnesota next week,” Blough said. “We’ve got to go out there and put a better performance on tape.”
Safe to say they’ll have a hard time producing a worse one than this, though.
Total Yards Allowed (Defense), Rank. Opp., Yds., Rush, Pass, Date
1. Was, 676, 194, 482, 11/4/90*
2. TB, 588, 144, 477, 12/26/20
3. KC, 566, 310, 256, 10/14/1990
4. SF, 565, 172, 393, 12/19/1993
5. (tie) Dal, 554, 102, 452, 9/15/1985
at Phi, 554, 173, 381, 9/23/2007