Detroit Lions' loss at Cleveland, 20-16, completes winless preseason

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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CLEVELAND — It needs to be said at the end of every summer that preseason football doesn’t matter. The games, the stats, the results, none of it means a thing when the regular season rolls around.

That’s good news for the Lions.

The bad news? The Lions lost to the Cleveland Browns in their preseason finale Thursday, 20-16, in a gross display of football that saw them rack up as many enforced penalties (12) as first downs (12) and finish exhibition play without a win for the first time in 30 years.

The Lions, with starters playing sparingly all summer, lost their four preseason games to the Browns, Patriots, Texans and Bills by a combined 43 points. They entered Thursday with the second worst point differential of any team this preseason and are now 1-7 in preseason games under Matt Patricia.

The last time the Lions went winless in the preseason, according to Pro Football Reference, was 1989, when they went 7-9 in the regular season — in Barry Sanders’ rookie year — and lost their opener to the then-Phoenix Cardinals.

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Nine days from now, the Lions open the regular season in Arizona against the Cardinals.

Despite their struggles this preseason, Patricia said Thursday he's pleased with where his team is heading into the regular season and pointed to the work players got in joint practices against the Texans and Patriots as reason to be optimistic about the months ahead.

"I think our team showed a lot of character from that standpoint and their willingness to go out and ignore everything else that was going on and work really hard," he said. "I think the guys in general through training camp, they tried to compete, they tried to go out every single day and get better. Really had our game down and we just grinded all the way through camp. Right now, obviously the biggest part of it for us is trying to make the best decisions we can for the team going forward and to help us try to go win during the regular season."

The Lions have until 4 p.m. Saturday to set their 53-man roster, and Thursday's performance left them with plenty to evaluate, good and bad.

Tom Savage started at quarterback against the Browns but struggled to move the ball behind poor pass protection.

Cleveland Browns linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong (52) sacks Detroit Lions quarterback Tom Savage (3) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Cleveland.

In his first action since he suffered a brain injury in Week 1 of the preseason, Savage was sacked three times and completed 5 of 9 passes for 33 yards.

The Lions trailed 10-2 at halftime, with their only points coming on a safety courtesy of a holding penalty in the end zone.

Josh Johnson, who’s vying with Savage to be Matthew Stafford’s backup, played most of the second half and led the Lions to their only touchdowns. He scored on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter after the Browns were called for pass interference in the end zone, and returned to the game to lead a two-minute drive late in the fourth quarter that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Nauta.

Johnson finished 9 of 15 passing for 157 yards, Luis Perez completed his only pass for 5 yards, and the Lions had just 204 net yards of offense as a team.

Few players who played Thursday will have significant roles this fall. Still, the Lions head into an important regular season — Patricia’s second as head coach, coming off a 6-10 record — with a sour taste in their mouth.

They’re dealing with injuries at linebacker (Jarrad Davis), center (Frank Ragnow) and along the defensive line (Da’Shawn Hand), haven’t had much success — just 62 points — with their new-look offense and were incredibly sloppy Thursday.

Along with their penalty problems, the Lions allowed seven sacks with their second- and third-team offensive lines and gave up 232 yards passing to third- and fourth-string Browns quarterbacks Garrett Gilbert and David Blough.

Detroit Lions quarterback Josh Johnson (4) rushes against Cleveland Browns defensive back Tigie Sankoh (40) during the second half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Cleveland.

Rookie Travis Fulgham led the Lions with three catches for 80 yards, and Eric Lee (four tackles, a half-sack) and Brandon Powell (a 67-yard kick return) had strong showings in their bids for roster spots.

"The big challenge for us, like it is for every NFL team right now, is to push from this point on," Patricia said. "And the teams that are able to grow and build and improve through the course of the season, through these different markers that we'll set as we get into the regular season, those are the ones that will be there in the end and that's really our next challenge."

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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