Jim Schwartz throwing an illegal challenge flag it was not, but Dan Campbell made a questionable coaching decision in his first Thanksgiving game Thursday that helped send the Detroit Lions to another gut-wrenching loss.
Campbell took a 5-yard penalty for calling back-to-back timeouts with 1:54 to play after a defensive miscommunication left his secondary vulnerable on a key third-and-9.
The Bears converted on third-and-4 after the penalty, and Cairo Santos made the game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Chicago Bears a 16-14 win over the Lions at Ford Field.
“Obviously you can’t do that, but we have miscommunication,” Campbell said. “Half of our secondary had one call, half had the other and so — yeah, banged a timeout.”
The Lions took a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter, but allowed the Bears (4-7) to finish the game with an 18-play, 69-yard drive that ran the final 8 minutes, 30 seconds off the clock.
The Lions stopped David Montgomery on a 1-yard run on the first play after the two-minute warning, then took a timeout with 1:54 left.
They crowded the line of scrimmage with eight defenders and no deep safety on the next play, then checked to a Cover 2 defense, where two safeties were supposed to be a last line of defense.
With players scrambling to get in the right position as Andy Dalton called for the snap, both Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn started signaling wildly for another timeout.
“Not everyone got it,” linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “We were in Cover 0. They went into max pro(tection), then we went to Cover 2 and not everyone got it and I guess Dan thought it was better to take the 5 yards than let up a touchdown. It’s really a smart play, smart call on his part.”
Dalton threw complete to Damiere Byrd for 7 yards on third-and-4 after the penalty, then took three knees before Santos came on for his third field goal of the game.
Campbell lamented missed opportunities after the game — the Lions were penalized 10 times for 67 yards — but stood by his decision.
“It’s a call and it’s got basically a check on it to what they’re going to do and what they line up in offensively, is what happened,” he said. “We had half in one call, half in another, so the first thing in my head is, ‘Well, we’ve got a blown coverage and they’re about to score a touchdown,’ so I do it, which you can’t do, and now it’s a penalty. But I know that if he threw it out in the flat, that was about to be a touchdown, so can’t do it.”
The Lions, 0-10-1 and the only winless team in the NFL, have lost on last-second field goals three times this season. Justin Tucker hit an NFL-record 66-yarder to give the Baltimore Ravens a 19-17 win over the Lions at Ford Field in Week 3, and Greg Joseph made a career-long 54-yarder to give the Minnesota Vikings a 19-17 win over the Lions two weeks later.
The Lions have not won a game since Dec. 6, 2020, when they beat the Bears in Darrell Bevell’s first game as interim head coach. They play their next game Dec. 5, against the Vikings at Ford Field.
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“It’s frustrating, and it’s emotional, 100%,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “All the work that we put into it, being competitive with really good teams, it hurts. It hurts. But you don’t want to go numb to that and then think that you’re not doing it for anything because then you’re going to be out there and you’re going to be hopeless. I know I’ve said it a million times, I want to see Detroit be a winner. God, we’ve been so close, so many games, but close isn’t good enough, and that’s just the fact.”
Jared Goff, making his return from a strained oblique, completed 12 straight passes to start the game and finished 21-for-25 for 171 yards with two touchdowns.
He opened the scoring with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds, his former teammate with the Los Angeles Rams, on the Lions’ first possession, and gave the Lions a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter with a 17-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson.
D’Andre Swift, coming off back-to-back 130-yard rushing games, left with a shoulder injury in the first half and finished with three carries for zero yards.
The Lions committed penalties on three consecutive plays twice Thursday, including once in the first half, when two false starts and a holding penalty knocked them out of field goal range and left them in first-and-30 from midfield.
The Bears took a 10-7 lead on the next possession, when Darnell Mooney beat fill-in nickel back Will Harris for a 52-yard gain on first down, and Dalton followed with a 17-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Jimmy Graham.
Dalton, starting in place of injured Bears rookie Justin Fields, completed 24 of 39 passes for 317 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Mooney added five catches for 123 yards for the Bears, who entered Thursday last in the NFL in passing offense at 155.8 yards per game.
“You have to learn how not to lose and it’s something that we’ve had a hard time doing obviously, especially in these close games,” Goff said. “How do you take care of the football late in the game? How do you make stops on defense? How do you move the ball efficiently later in the game and not hurt yourself? For me, how do I stay in the pocket and not let those guys get moved off my spot and allow a holding call there in some instances? It’s little things like that, that the good teams do and do consistently and something we’re working towards, something we’re on our way to I believe. But it’s something that we’re working towards.”