Wojo: In raucous opener, Lions chew on ‘humble pie’

Detroit News

Detroit — It was loud all day, rolling waves of decibels, right to the final play. And then it got so quiet, you could hear the din drop.

Pffft. Just like that, as fans gasped, the air left Ford Field’s blue ski mask party. In a home opener full of exhilarating action, the Lions received a painful message at the end. Climbing the NFL ranks isn’t easy, and against a nemesis, every mistake is punished.

The game ended in overtime, which was appropriate considering how tight it was. The Seahawks pulled out a 37-31 victory, also appropriate because they made more big plays at big times. When Geno Smith flipped a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett on the first possession of overtime, the sellout crowd of 66,434 stood as if it couldn’t believe it was over. Aidan Hutchinson laid prone on the turf as if he couldn’t believe it was over, and also that there wasn’t a (fairly obvious) holding penalty.

The Lions weren’t begging for calls after this one because they knew their worst wounds were self-inflicted. Their defense, so good a week ago, rarely bothered Smith, collecting one sack and forcing no turnovers. David Montgomery ran with power but fumbled on the first play of the third quarter, and the Seahawks quickly converted it for the tying touchdown. Jared Goff was sharp all game, except for one underthrow as he was getting hit, intercepted by Tre Brown and returned 40 yards for a touchdown to put Seattle on top 31-21.

“I know it stings, and those guys are disappointed,” Dan Campbell said of his players. “I’m disappointed, the staff is, but my gosh, man, this is good. We’ll get a little humble pie here.”

From celebratory cake to rancid pie, that’s how quickly it can turn. Plenty of fans heeded safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s call to wear blue ski masks, to fit a self-appointed villainous theme. Others noticed, too, including a Seahawks player who wore a blue mask while loudly celebrating with teammates in the locker room.

OK, so maybe the ski mask thing fell short on the intimidation scale. If the Lions want that identity, they’ll have to take it with force, and perhaps that’s the humility Campbell referenced.

One game doesn’t reveal a team’s true identity, just as the stirring 21-20 victory last week over the Super Bowl champion Chiefs didn’t change everything. In fact, the Lions (1-1) ran smack into the true villain here, a Seattle team that has beaten them three years in a row and nine of the past 10 meetings.

This one hurt worse, because anticipation was mounting since the victory in Kansas City, and the Lions had every opportunity to pull it out. It’s too early in the season to draw dramatic conclusions, but this didn’t look like a return to the Lions’ old ways. More like a reminder they’re not yet good enough to win with so many mistakes.

“You’d like to get the first one in front of the fans, I think that probably makes it sting a little bit more,” Goff said. “That was a real, real, real home-field advantage for us, and having them do that for the rest of the year will be a real, real home-field advantage.”

Defense disappoints

The Lions defense still has a long way to go, as Smith completed 32 of 41 passes for 328 yards. The pass rush was nonexistent, despite the absence of the Seahawks’ two starting tackles. Smith was masterful at getting the ball out quickly, and the pace accelerated just as it did a year ago, when Seattle came in and beat the Lions, 48-45.

This was a chance to make amends and earn some payback. In the locker room, players expressed disappointment in short, somber answers. Did they have a message to the fans?

“We’re sorry,” cornerback Jerry Jacobs said. “We need to keep that same energy because we ain’t gonna let you down. We appreciate the support, seeing all those blue people in the stands, just keep bearing with us.”

It was a Blue day with a blue finish, and with the sense the Lions blew one. Goff was superb most of the way, completing 28 of 35 for 323 yards, getting plenty of time behind his strong offensive line. He threw three touchdown passes, two to Josh Reynolds, including a 4-yard strike with 3:08 left. That made it 31-28 and required a stand by the defense, which came through this time, but not in overtime.

Goff directed a short drive in the final two minutes, and Riley Patterson tied it 31-31 with a 38-yard field goal on the final play. The Seahawks won the coin flip and the Lions never saw the ball again. Which is why you don’t leave the outcome up to a coin flip.

“I thought (Campbell) said it great after the game — we didn’t deserve that one,” Goff said. “They earned that win, and we kind of earned the loss. Again, had some plays potentially to kind of sneak one out, but typically, it doesn’t go your way if the turnover margin is that big.”

The Lions committed three turnovers, the Seahawks none. And while Goff didn’t necessarily need any humble pie, he got a slice anyway, throwing his first interception in 11 games, ending a streak of 383 passes without one, third-longest in NFL history.

Turnovers haunt

Of course, that streak wasn’t going to continue forever. In the NFL, extremes are rare, and most trends get pulled to the middle. Seattle (1-1) was pounded at home last week by the Rams, but Pete Carroll’s teams don’t stay down for long.

Neither does the Lions’ offense, which can be dazzlingly creative under coordinator Ben Johnson. There was the flea flicker where Goff pitched the ball to Jahmyr Gibbs, who pitched it back to Goff, who lofted a 36-yard touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond. There were all sorts of misdirection plays, and it might have been even more effective if Montgomery hadn’t left in the third quarter with a thigh injury.

“If there’s some magic world where we can take away the turnovers from today, I thought we played pretty well,” Goff said. “Outside of that, the turnovers are what kill you.”

That’s the short answer for a tough loss. Next week, Atlanta comes in with another top-notch offense, and the Lions have to do what they stress. Campbell always will be aggressive, and the Lions converted one key fourth down Sunday and missed on two others.

That’s part of who they are. Tighter pass defense and a stronger pass rush need to become a bigger part of who they are. Which brings us back to the humble pie, and Campbell’s interesting explanation. Not that the Lions needed to be brought down, but they needed to see where they are in their development.

“I just think sometimes you don’t know exactly where you’re at until you’re in it,” Campbell said. “It’s just, we come off a big win, and you can always preach certain things, but this is the NFL, and these guys came in, and they took that win; they earned it over there. … We have to make those plays in the moment and not just assume it’s going to turn into the game you want it to.”

The Lions didn’t want to get into a shootout with the Seahawks, and they might have avoided it with one or three fewer turnovers. On this day, they tried to have their pie and eat it, too. It’s early in a long season, nowhere near dessert time for a team still learning how to feed off the frenzy.


X: @bobwojnowski

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