Wojo: Jared Goff’s gaffes are latest twist in Lions’ misery

Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — It’s the Lions’ never-ending circle of misery. One thing gets fixed, another gets broken. One mistake leads to another mistake, and another, which leads to a desperate comeback attempt, which leads to another loss that we no longer can call inexplicable.

It’s actually quite explicable, in a circuitous way. Bad football teams cannot make matters worse by committing blunders. But that’s what bad football teams do. The Lions weren’t all bad at Dallas on Sunday, just at the worst times. They actually played solid defense and led the Cowboys at the half, and then committed five turnovers in the second half, each more egregious than the last.

The Lions dropped their fourth straight, 24-6, and you might muster sympathy if you weren’t so darn sick of it. At 1-5 — and 4-18-1 under Dan Campbell — the Lions are what they are, not what they purport to be. They can’t be trusted. Jared Goff can’t be trusted, even when he’s playing a sound, efficient game, before throwing two dreadful interceptions and losing two fumbles. Jamaal Williams usually can be trusted, and he was running hard against Dallas’ tough defense, right up until he fumbled at the 1 when the Lions could’ve taken the lead.

Campbell can’t be trusted, even when he and his staff put together a good defensive plan against the Cowboys and Dak Prescott and control the ball for large chunks. With 11 games left, Campbell and Goff must supply reasons to be trusted, or this can’t go on. Knowing they’re undermanned in most games, they swing wildly from taking too many chances to not enough, from pushing too hard to not pushing enough.

Should have, could have

“Starts with me,” Goff said. “We take care of the ball today, we probably win. … Your character is revealed in moments of adversity and we’ve certainly been through our fair share the last couple years. And this time is no different. Gotta allow them to see who I am and keep fighting.”

The Lions keep showing people who they are, and we’re inclined to believe them. They haven’t recorded a touchdown in two games, after leading the league in scoring. Goff has become the one thing he can’t become — a turnover machine, with six interceptions and three lost fumbles. He was 21 for 26 for 228 yards in this one, keeping it conservative as the Lions were missing injured D’Andre Swift and D.J. Chark. Then Amon-Ra St. Brown left early with a concussion, and it was clear just one touchdown would be huge.

The Lions usually scramble and make it respectable, and then in the end generally make the big error, whether mental, physical, or metaphysical. Williams had the key one, certainly not the only one. Afterward he sat at his locker with his head down, his normal exuberance reduced to a hoarse whisper.

More: Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Defense’s outing overshadowed by batch of turnovers

“I should’ve scored and everything would’ve been different,” Williams said. “We should’ve won this one. We should be 2-4. All (the other mistakes) happened after mine. All that wouldn’t have happened, because of me. I take responsibility for this loss.”

Ah, if only it was so simple to sum up. It’s admirable that players accept responsibility. It’s notable the Lions played better after the bye, especially on defense, with strong performances from Jeff Okudah, Aidan Hutchinson and other young players. But it’s all background noise, as the defense finally rises, the offense staggers.

Fateful fumble

This game was settled in one tidy sequence. Trailing 10-6, the Lions forced a punt after a Hutchinson sack, then drove smartly from their own 20 to the Cowboys’ 19 early in the fourth quarter. Goff connected with tight end Brock Wright, who churned toward the left pilon, toward the lead touchdown. He was tackled just short of the goal line, or was he?

A ton of things could’ve happened here. Wright could’ve cut slightly at the last second and slid into the end zone. Campbell could’ve called a timeout and called for a review of the play. Instead, Campbell got word from his spotter in the booth that Wright didn’t get in (he didn’t), but now the clock was ticking and the Lions were scrambling, first-and-goal from the 1.

They rushed to the line and Goff hurriedly handed the ball to Williams, who didn’t completely secure it and fumbled. On the sideline, Campbell yanked his headset off and slammed it. Williams laid on the ground distraught. One mistake begat another, which begat the fatal mistake.

And of course, it was the first lost fumble of Williams’ six-year career.

“I got the ball, but I didn’t really get to secure it all the way,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I gotta hold on to it. That’s just my fault.”

His fault led to other faults. And no, you can’t pin it on the officials, as tempting as it is with controversial plays in Dallas. When Trevon Diggs intercepted Goff, he appeared to bobble the ball as he hit the ground. A coach can’t challenge on a turnover, but it was automatically reviewed and not overturned, to the surprise of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on the CBS broadcast. Even more surprising was a no-call in the fourth quarter when Lions running back Justin Jackson was flipped and viciously driven to the ground by the Cowboys’ Sam Williams.

Two plays later, Goff threw a horrible interception to Jourdan Lewis near midfield. That led to a long Dallas drive, helped by defensive holding and offside penalties on Alex Anzalone. It ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott that made it 17-6 with 2:46 left.

By then, Goff was just haphazardly trying to create something and was strip-sacked by Williams at his own 32. A few minutes later, one more fumble by Goff, on a Micah Parsons hit. It was the last of five sacks by the Cowboys, who lead the league, but Goff ran himself into trouble as often as they chased him there. He’s not a pressure-time quarterback, and he doesn’t have endless chances to prove otherwise.

Frankly, neither does Campbell.

“Look, I’m frustrated because we’re losing,” Campbell said. “But I’m not down, and I’m not losing confidence. I’m not going to go hide in the corner. That’s not what I’m about. You change a couple of things, man, you take care of the football, you game plan the way you should, and all of the sudden you’re winning, you know?”

They’re always one yard and one player and one year away. For a half Sunday in Dallas, they looked a bit closer. An optical illusion, apparently, as they again ended up pretty much where they began.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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