Josh Allen made a play. Heck, he made a few of them, as he should considering he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Yeah, it stings, and it will because the Lions looked legitimate on the national stage. In fact, they looked more than that:
They looked good. And have for a month now.
It’s no longer a fluke. Not when the Lions were leading a Super Bowl contender with five minutes to go. Not when they overcame a fumble, a missed field goal, a safety, some tough injury luck and a few bad breaks to be in a position to win.
Sure, a win against the Bills and the narrative changes and the playoffs aren’t just a dream, but an actual, bona fide possibility.
Maybe they still are?
For now, though, know that Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes are showing a few things.
Know that before you bemoan the late clock management and the defense that gave up a 36-yard pass from Allen to Stefon Diggs with 23 seconds left — a pass that set up the game-winning, soul-crushing field goal — the Lions got the late-game lead despite not being able to run the ball because its starting guards were out with injuries.
Jonah Jackson and Evan Brown should name their price moving forward. Without them, Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift had nowhere to go, and Jared Goff had to deal with a blown-up pocket all afternoon.
Yet they managed 25 points.
All game, the Lions showed the kind of toughness that Campbell and Holmes keep preaching. It’s starting to look like an identity.
Consider the third quarter sequence when the Bills got the ball on the opening drive, leading 17-14, when a third-and-13, and a second-and-21 were converted as Buffalo looked like they were about to take control of the game.
More frustrating is that Julian Okwara was in position to sack Allen on second-and-long but hurt his elbow and fell to the turf as Allen lasered a pass to Isaiah Mckenzie on the other side of the field. A silly throw by a gifted player aided by tough luck for Okwara.
The Bills ended up with a first-and-goal. The Lions found a way out of it when Malcom Rodriguez tipped an Allen pass inside the Lions’ 10-yard line and Alex Anzalone caught the tip. Three plays later, Goff was tackled in the end zone for a safety and the Lions had to punt.
Buffalo led, 19-14, at that point and when they took over at the 36 it looked like they were ready to take over the game. Then the sixth-rounder made another play.
James Houston, who already had a sack and fumble recovery, chased down Allen on third down and sacked him. The Bills punted. The Lions drove down to the 10 before stalling and missing a field goal.
The defense got another stop, it’s third in a row, and Kalif Raymond returned the punt 41 yards after slipping a couple of tackles and tight roping down the sideline. The drive ended when Goff hit DJ Chark for a 1-yard touchdown.
At that point, with the Thanksgiving crowd sending shock waves through downtown, the Lions were looking at a four-game winning streak and the kind of midseason turnaround that is rare and when they do happen, always happen in some other city.
A practice squad sixth-rounder making his NFL debut sacking Allen twice?
It looked like pixie dust. And if Goff and the offense could’ve made a few more plays when the Lions had the ball up three points midway through the fourth quarter, well … coulda, shoulda, woulda, right?
Still, don’t say the phrase so many love to say when things don’t go right. It doesn’t apply here. This isn’t the same team.
Yeah, the Lions lost a heartbreaker. Yeah, Austin Bryant unnecessarily threw Allen to the ground after he’d thrown an incompletion and drew a roughing-the-passer penalty that helped the Bills score a touchdown. And yeah, Williams fumbled, and Michael Badgley missed a short field goal and Goff took a safety.
But pointing out the mistakes implies that other teams don’t make them. They do. They best teams do. Buffalo did. The Bills just have Allen, that’s all. He made a couple more positive plays to offset the negative ones.
The Lions were right there anyway. Think of it as progress.
Thursday’s showing suggests more is on the way.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.