Lions hang with heavyweight Bills, but late field goal spoils Thanksgiving upset bid

Detroit News

Detroit — In front of one of the biggest crowds to ever witness a football game at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions went toe-to-toe with a Super Bowl contender, but it was the Buffalo Bills who scored the knockout blow in the closing moments of the final round.

Showcasing the same quick-strike ability he did in last year’s all-time classic playoff game against Kansas City, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen needed fewer than 30 seconds to get his team into field-goal range after the Lions tied the contest at 25 with a 51-yard Michael Badgley field goal.

A 36-yard bullet to Stefon Diggs was the key play, setting kicker Tyler Bass up to knock home the 45-yard field goal with two seconds remaining and sending the Bills to a 28-25 victory. The heartbreaking loss snapped Detroit’s three-game winning streak.

“When you play a team like this, you don’t have to be perfect, but you’ve got to be pretty close,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “And we weren’t quite able to do that today, but we hung in there and we battled. I know we’re getting better. …I’m frustrated, because I hate losing, we all do, but yet, I also know we got a little better today. We just did.”

BOX SCORE: Bills 28, Lions 25

Bass made the kick, but Allen was unquestionably the hero. Not only did the MVP candidate help get the Bills (8-3) in field-goal range, he also led a 14-play, 90-yard touchdown drive the previous possession, capped by a 5-yard touchdown to Diggs.

“That’s what great players do,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “They step in those big moments and they make big plays in big moments of games like this.”

For the game, Allen accounted for 341 yards of offense, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another.

The game started slow, with both teams punting the ball away on their opening possession, before the Lions (4-7) opened the scoring with a 12-play drive that ended in the end zone. The key play came when quarterback Jared Goff connected with receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for a third-down conversion into the red zone.

An offside infraction against the Bills set the Lions up first-and-goal from the 2-yard line where Jamaal Williams punched it in for his league-leading 13th rushing touchdown.

The Bills countered with a touchdown drive of their own. Allen showcased his dual-threat ability during the series, scrambling for 21 yards on one snap before delivering a perfect pass to slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie on a deep crossing pattern for a 19-yard score, tying the game following the extra point.

Detroit looked poised to regain the lead early in the second quarter, driving into Bills territory, but Williams lost a fumble that was recovered by Buffalo at their own 42-yard line.

Capitalizing on the takeaway, Allen opened the series with three straight completions and finished the drive with his feet, picking up a dropped shotgun snap and scrambling for a 4-yard touchdown to put the Bills up, 14-7.

The Lions managed to keep pace, marching 71 yards on 15 plays. It certainly wasn’t easy, as they had to convert a fourth-and-one at their own 33-yard line and fourth-and-goal with a 2-yard touchdown toss from Goff to St. Brown.

On the drive, Buffalo’s star edge rusher Von Miller exited the game with a knee injury. He had to be carted to the locker room and was ruled out a short time later.

Taking over with 1:52 remaining in the half, the Bills quickly worked across midfield with a 27-yard completion to McKenzie after Allen escaped a collapsing pocket. But a third-down sack by rookie James Houston, making his NFL debut, forced the Bills into settling for a field goal. The 47-yarder by Tyler Bass as time expired put Buffalo up, 17-14, at the break.

Looking to extend the advantage coming out of the locker room, the Bills drove into the red zone behind long completions to Gabe Davis and McKenzie, as well as a third-down-converting pass interference call against cornerback Jerry Jacobs, who was trying to cover Diggs across the middle. But on first-and-goal, linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez jumped into Allen’s throwing lane and teammate Alex Anzalone corralled the deflection for the interception.

That turnover turned into points, but not for the Lions. Three plays after the pick, guard Dan Skipper stepped on Goff’s foot causing the quarterback to stumble and fall in the end zone, resulting in a safety that put the Bills up, 19-14.

Following the free kick, the Bills found themselves right back in Lions territory thanks to a 15-yard run by running back Devin Singletary. But the drive was just as quickly derailed when Houston secured his second sack of the contest, again on third down, forcing a punt.

With new life, Goff went to St. Brown on back-to-back plays to start the series for 39 yards. And a 27-yard misdirection run by Williams got the Lions into the red zone. A well-placed ball from Goff had the offense primed to regain the lead, but running back D’Andre Swift couldn’t hang on, leaving the Lions to attempt a short field goal, but Michael Badgley sent the 29-yard kick wide left, leaving Detroit trailing by five.

As they’ve done often during the team’s recent winning streak, the Lions defense stepped up after the miscue, forcing the Bills into a quick three-and-out. Then, on the punt return, Kalif Raymond dodged two tacklers immediately after fielding the ball, getting to the sideline where he made another man miss. He was eventually tackled after a 41-yard return, setting the Lions up at the Bills 35-yard line.

After drawing an interference call on a receiver pass, running back Justin Jackson broke free for an 11-yard gain to give the Lions a first-and-goal from the 10. A pair of Williams runs got the Lions down to the 1, where Goff threaded a tight-window throw DJ Chark in the back of the end zone to put the Lions ahead. A successful two-point conversion, on a handoff to Swift, made it 22-19 early in the fourth quarter.

“Kind of all week, we’ve been running that play, and all week, I had noticed that the backside guy kept coming open,” Goff said about the throw to Chark. “It’s meant for the frontside. but knew if those two guys weren’t open, he had a good chance there. He ran a great route and made a great catch, and just having him out there today is just a nice shot in the arm. He’s a good physical receiver, fast, smart, can kind of do it all, and having him back was helpful.”

Taking the lead for the first time since the opening quarter, Detroit’s defense continued to play tough. After surrendering a pair of first downs, the unit forced Allen into three straight incompletions, with defensive end Austin Bryant hitting the quarterback on third down to alter the throw, leading to a punt.

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Goff, meanwhile, stuck to a working script, going to St. Brown twice in a row for 35 yards to lead off the ensuing drive. The quarterback then averted disaster when Jackson broke up an under-duress pass directly to Bills linebacker A.J. Klein. That killed the drive’s momentum and the Lions punted the ball back to the Bills, pinning them at the 10-yard line with 8:59 remaining.

That’s when the dam finally broke for Detroit’s defense. The Bills offense, one of the best in the NFL, embarked on a 14-play, 90-play drive to retake the lead. In addition to Allen’s sharp play during the possession, the Bills also benefited from a roughing the passer call, when the quarterback was flung to the ground after a throw by Bryant.

“We knew that (officiating) crew and that was one of the things we talked about,” Campbell said. “That crew (will call) unnecessary roughness, and if you get close to the quarterback they’re going to call it. They’ve been educated on that and it just comes down to discipline.”

A missed extra point by Bass left the Lions trailing by just three when they took over with 2:40 remaining.

That was plenty of time for the Lions to work into field-goal range, but after St. Brown was stopped a half-yard short of the marker on second down, and Goff underthrew Chark on a third-down deep shot, they needed a 51-yarder from Badgley, which the kicker snuck inside the right upright to knot the game, 25-25.

“I wish I had thrown a different ball,” Goff said. “I thought the play call was great and had some options what to do there, and yeah, if you had to do it again, do you do something differently? I don’t know, maybe, but if I throw a better ball, it might not matter.”

Even with the field goal, Allen didn’t need more than the 23 seconds remaining, hitting Diggs for the long gain and shortening Bass’ kick with two runs for 12 more yards.

“When you’re playing that caliber team, the margin for error is very minute,” Campbell said. And every play is significant, which we talked about before. I also want them to understand it should sting that we lost that game because we had our opportunities. But that doesn’t mean we took a step back either.

“…We are figuring some things out,” Campbell said. “Yeah, there are still mistakes, but I don’t feel like that was a step back. I still feel like we are moving forward. And as long as we come out of this break, this little three days off, we come back ready to go against the next opponent, this can be a positive for us, not a negative.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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