Shorthanded Detroit Lions unable to slow down Broncos in 38-10 loss: ‘We weren’t good enough’

Detroit Free Press

DENVER — He had plenty of excuses. Valid ones, too.

Their lack of practice time. Their mounting COVID cases. Their shorthanded roster.

But as Dan Campbell brooded over another lopsided loss, 38-10 to the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Empower Field, all the first-year Detroit Lions coach could think about was his team’s sloppy second half.

“You know what I think about honestly?” Campbell said. “We come out of halftime and we got momentum and we just ran it two plays in a row and did really good, and we fumbled the ball. And I’m like, ‘We may take that all the way down and score a touchdown, then what? Then what happens? You know?’

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“So it’s hard for me to say, ‘Well, everything was stacked against us.’ I’m like, ‘Man, that’s’ — I just, I can’t think that way.”

Ravaged by COVID-19, a flu outbreak and injuries that left them without more than 20% of their 53-man roster, the Lions had no answers for Denver’s dominant running game Sunday as Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for four touchdowns and 184 yards rushing to keep the Broncos’ slim playoff hopes alive.

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The Lions, who were officially eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the day, lost for the 11th time in 13 games under Campbell and at 1-11-1 remain in line for the No. 1 pick in next April’s draft.

With four games to go, they sit a half-game behind the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record in the NFL. The Texans face the Jaguars, both 2-11, next week.

“It doesn’t matter (what we were up against),” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said. “No one feels bad for us, no feels sorry for us, including ourselves. We went out here intending to win. We came up short. Don’t care who was on the field. We had the guys that we believe in and to win, and made too many mistakes.”

The Lions played Sunday without starters D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson and Jalen Reeves-Maybin because of injuries and without Jamaal Williams, Tracy Walker, Evan Brown, Bobby Price Ifeatu Melifonwu and Mark Gilbert because of COVID.

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They promoted seven players from the practice squad to the gameday roster, started little-known players like Evan McCollum at center and Jessie Lemonier at outside linebacker, and were outclassed at most every position.

The Broncos (7-6) opened Sunday’s game by taking a delay-of-game penalty with 10 men on the field in honor of former receiver Demaryius Thomas, who died this week at age 33. The Lions declined the penalty, something Campbell said he talked with Broncos coach Vic Fangio about Saturday.

Denver scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, led 7-10 at halftime and did not pull away until the third quarter.

Godwin Igwebuike, starting in place of Swift and Williams, fumbled on the second play of the second half to set up Teddy Bridgewater’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Williams.

The Lions failed to convert a fourth-and-2 deep on their own territory on the ensuing possession, and Gordon followed four plays later with a 14-yard touchdown run to give Denver a comfortable 31-10 lead.

“Today’s definitely a tough one,” Igwebuike said. “One thing I can admit and I’m just learning is that football is a microcosm of life, in a lot of ways. You have your good days and bad days, your good seasons and bad seasons, successes and failures. I wouldn’t consider today a failure, but even with that being said, I love this team, I love my teammates and to think I had a hand in our loss, obviously, is tough for me personally.”

Igwebuike nearly lost a second fumble on the goal line early in the fourth quarter, when the Lions couldn’t get out of their own way again.

Officials deemed Igwebuike stepped out of bounds just before losing the fumble, giving the Lions a second-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 14:09 to play. But right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai stepped on Goff’s foot on second down, causing Goff to fall backwards for a 3-yard loss, and Goff threw incomplete the next two plays.

After a Denver punt, Goff threw his eighth interception of the season on a sideline pass that was behind tight end Brock Wright.

Craig Reynolds, a preseason star who earned the nickname “Netflix” after signing as a free agent in August, led the Lions with 83 yards rushing on 11 carries and was one of the team’s few standouts.

Reynolds learned he would play a significant role in the game plan on Friday, after Williams tested positive for COVID.

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Goff, who had at least four passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, finished 24 of 39 passing for 215 yards, and Amon-Ra St. Brown had eight catches for 73 yards for the Lions.

“What we had to do what was not ideal, but we were prepared to come into this game with the guys that we had,” Campbell said. “We had a game plan ready to go. We knew what we needed to do and we didn’t do it. Just too many mistakes or right there to make a play, and we don’t make the play. We weren’t good enough.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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