Turnovers ‘killed us’: Lions fumble away best defensive effort of season, fall to Cowboys

Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — If it’s not one thing, it’s another with these Detroit Lions.

With the Lions’ much-maligned defense playing its best game of the season on Sunday, the offense squandered multiple opportunities and turned the ball over five times, all in the second half, in a 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

“It doesn’t matter who we have or what we’re doing or who we’re playing, the bottom line is you’ve gotta find a way to win,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I really felt like we were on track to do that and then we made those couple of mistakes that killed us, the turnovers. Against an opponent this good, good luck.”

BOX SCORE: Cowboys 24, Lions 6

The Lions (1-5) were hanging tough until the fourth quarter, and had a prime opportunity to take the lead early in that frame. Trailing 10-6, the Lions secured first-and-goal after tight end Brock Wright caught a 17-yard pass and was driven out of bounds at the 1-yard line. But on the next snap, running back Jamaal Williams ran into Wright, serving as a lead blocker, fumbling the ball in the process.

The loose ball was scooped up by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Barr, marking the first time Williams has lost a fumble in his six-year career.

“I put this one on me, for putting us in that situation,” a dejected Williams said after the game. “I should’ve scored. I just put this one on me.”

That turnover, combined with frustrations over a communication breakdown regarding whether to challenge whether Wright got into the end zone on the previous play, caused the typically even-keeled Campbell to spike his headset on the sideline.

And even though Detroit’s defense held tight following the blunder, forcing a punt, quarterback Jared Goff would go on to toss his second interception of the game four plays into the ensuing possession, giving Dallas (5-2) a short field they capitalized on to put the game out of reach.

“Starts with me,” Goff said. “We take care of the ball today, we probably win.”

Despite the three-score margin of defeat, Detroit’s defense unquestionably had its best showing of the year, making a statement from the start by forcing Dallas into a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession. And after the Lions offense stalled out near midfield their first series, the defense forced another quick punt , stopping Ezekiel Elliott behind the line of scrimmage on third after rookie Josh Paschal, making his debut, forced the Cowboys running back to bounce the carry outside.

Those two Cowboys punts equaled how many the Lions had forced the two previous games.

The Lions opened the scoring on the next possession, using a balanced attack centered around quick passing to keep the Cowboys off balance. The drive was eventually stopped just outside the red zone when Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs broke up a third-down throw intended for Kalif Raymond, leaving the Lions to settle for a 40-yard Michael Badgley field goal.

In addition to falling short of the end zone, the Lions also suffered a devastating blow, losing star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown to a concussion. On the play before Diggs’ breakup, St. Brown took a shoulder to the side of the head at the end of a catch, leading the official to stop play and send the receiver off to be evaluated.

The Cowboys tied the game early in the second quarter, driving deep into Detroit territory on a 12-play drive before the Lions came up with a short-yardage stop inside the 5-yard line to force a Brett Maher field goal from 22 yards out.

Detroit was able to respond, regaining the lead with a 53-yard boot from Badgley. On the drive, the offense looked to have worked the ball into the red zone on a first-down run by Williams, but the gain was negated by a holding infraction against guard Evan Brown, killing the series and leading to the field goal.

The Cowboys appeared poised to grab the lead before the half, but after receiver Noah Brown hauled a pass in at the 5-yard line, he had the ball knocked free when rookie safety Kerby Joseph upended him. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye recovered the fumble at the 3-yard line and the Lions were able to run the remaining time off the clock to get to the locker room with the narrow advantage.

To open the second half, the Lions looked to extend their edge, quickly working the ball to midfield before attempting a deep shot to Josh Reynolds down the left sideline. But despite a clean pocket, Goff’s pass was underthrown and intercepted by Diggs, ending the threat.

“I was trying to kind of throw him back shoulder,” Goff said. “It wasn’t a great throw. Kid made a great play and wish I would have had it back.”

Taking advantage of the turnover, Dallas quickly drove 73 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Elliott and backfield mate Tony Pollard led the charge, gaining 48 yards on consecutive carries where Detroit’s safeties missed a tackle on each.

After a defensive pass interference call in the end zone against Detroit’s Jerry Jacobs, Elliott finished the drive by punching it across the goal line from a yard out, putting Dallas up, 10-6, following the extra point.

That score held through the remainder of the quarter, thanks again to the Lions defense, which came up with a critical stop after Cowboys return man KaVontae Turpin brought a punt back 52 yards into Detroit territory. Aidan Hutchinson recorded a sack on third down, his second of the game, to knock Dallas out of field goal range and force a punt.

Leaning on the ground game, the Lions went on a lengthy march, gaining 51 yards on seven carries. The offense also converted its first third down of the afternoon with a 19-yard pass from Goff to Raymond. But Williams’ aforementioned fumble ended the threat.

Again, the defense got a stop, but again the offense turned it over when Goff was picked by former Michigan standout Jourdan Lewis near midfield with 8:25 remaining.

This time, Detroit’s defense didn’t have an answer, allowing the Cowboys to convert a trio of third downs, including one via penalty and another just shy of the goal line. From there, Elliott put the finishing touches on the drive, and the game, with another 1-yard touchdown run. That put the Cowboys up two scores with a little under three minutes left in the game.

Detroit’s last-gasp effort fittingly ended in another turnover. Cowboys defensive end Sam Williams, beating the block of right tackle Penei Sewell, ripped the ball free from the grasp of Goff. Four plays later, the Cowboys were back in the end zone, salting the game away with a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dak Prescott to tight end Peyton Hendershot.

Goff lost another fumble in garbage time, giving Detroit its fifth and final turnovers before Dallas took a knee to end the game.

“Yeah, (I was) trying to (make a play), still got to hold onto the ball,” Goff said. “The one I didn’t see him. The second one, I gotta just hold onto it. But, yeah, trying to extend the play and make something happen.”

The Lions, who lost their fourth straight, host the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field next Sunday.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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