Detroit Lions aren’t the Same Old. Saying otherwise misses how they played vs. contender

Detroit Free Press

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.

Sometimes, the other guy is just good, and that’s the difference, and, ultimately, why the Buffalo Bills beat the Detroit Lions on Thursday, 28-25 — a little too much Allen.

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.

“It should sting that we lost that game because we had our opportunities,” said Dan Campbell, the Lions’ head coach. “But that doesn’t mean we took a step back either. I still felt growth today, I feel like we are continuing to take a step. We are figuring some things out.”

Some may not want to hear it, and rightly so. These are the Lions, right? Yet that fact — and the franchise’s history — doesn’t mean Campbell is wrong. His team is figuring things out. His team is getting better.

Sure, beat the Bills and the narrative changes: The playoffs aren’t just a dream, but an actual, bona fide possibility.

Maybe they still are?

For now, though, know that Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes are showing a few things.

CARLOS MONARREZ:Forget the loss: These Detroit Lions have playoff potential despite Bills’ win

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 lead despite not being able to run the ball because their 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 it was about to take control of the game.

More frustrating was that Julian Okwara could’ve sacked Allen on second-and-long but hurt his elbow and fell to the turf as the Bills’ quarterback lasered a pass to Isaiah Mckenzie on the other side of the field. A ridiculous 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 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 the Bills took over at the 36 it looked like they were ready to take over the game. Then a sixth-rounder making his debut Thursday made another play.

James Houston, who already had a sack and a fumble recovery, chased down Allen on third down for a sack. The Bills punted. The Lions drove down to the 10 before stalling and missing a field goal.

The defense got another stop, its third in a row, and Kalif Raymond returned the punt 41 yards after slipping a couple of tackles and tight-roping 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 always happens in some other city.

A practice squad sixth-rounder 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?

“We belong, and they should know that, and they do know that,” Campbell said. “They knew they had an opportunity … they earned that opportunity, and we just didn’t close it out.”

And while that sounds suspiciously like the phrase that won’t get mentioned here, it is not. This isn’t the same team it was a year ago. It isn’t the same team it was a month ago.

“It’s such a different feel,” said Goff, who wished he’d thrown a better ball to Chark on the play before the Lions kicked a field goal to tie the game. “We know we can beat anybody. We know we can play with anybody.”

Empty words?

In the past, sure. But the Lions have played solidly for a month now. And as tempting as it is to dismiss Campbell and Goff and so many others in the locker room who insisted that the team is getting better, the play on the field says we shouldn’t.

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. Even the 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 Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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