Detroit Lions take little solace in loss to Chiefs, even as they look legit
The Detroit Lions put the entire NFL on notice with their best performance of the season Sunday, coming within a whisker of beating arguably the best team in the league. But perhaps the most revealing part about their 34-30 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs is they walked away kicking themselves about another missed opportunity.
“I’m confident in the guys we have in this locker room,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “I feel like we can play with anybody. But like you said, there’s no moral victories. I feel like that was a game we should have won, we could have won, and we’ve got to step up defensively when we really need to.”
The Lions kept the cap on the one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses, holding Patrick Mahomes without a touchdown pass for the third time since he became the starter in 2018, but they weren’t able to come up with a stop when they needed it most.
Mahomes, the reigning NFL MVP, ran for 15 yards on a key fourth-and-8 play with just under 2 minutes to play, and Darrel Williams scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 20 seconds left as the Chiefs beat the Lions in an electric game at Ford Field.
“He’s a great player,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said of Mahomes. “Saw (the first down), and he just took it right away. We had a particular call, and they came in with a bigger personnel group and they did a good job with the protection on it, and really kind of doubled down on some of our guys and chipped them out of there and opened up a big hole. I think it was probably a quick read for him, whether or not it was there, take off. If not, throw it. And it was there for him and he took advantage of it."
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Patricia said Mahomes’ fourth-down run was “on me,” and “I’ve got to coach that better,” but the Lions appeared to have a defensive breakdown on the play.
They rushed three players and dropped eight into coverage, but two defenders, linebacker Christian Jones and safety Tavon Wilson, followed Williams out of the backfield.
With Jones and Wilson out of the play and the middle of the field open, Mahomes tucked the ball and sprinted toward midfield, where he slid for a first down.
“That was the game,” Kennard said.
Mahomes threw complete to tight end Travis Kelce on the next play, and Kelce sidestepped a Rashaan Melvin tackle to get out of bounds and preserve precious seconds on the clock.
Already in field-goal range, the Chiefs marched inside the Lions’ 5-yard line, and Williams scored on his second goal-to-go carry from 1 yard out.
“Me personally, I’m disappointed,” safety Tracy Walker said. “I feel like we had that game and we left a lot of plays out there. And honestly, you just got to learn from mistakes. I guess it was a great battle. We went out there and we fought our hearts out and they made a few more plays than us.”
Even before Mahomes’ fourth-down scramble, Sunday’s game was filled with dramatic plays on both sides.
The Lions scored 10 points on two dominant first-quarter drives, the Chiefs answered with 13 points before halftime, both teams combined for five fumbles in the third quarter, and they traded big plays in a back-and-forth fourth.
In the most controversial play of the game, Bashaud Breeland returned a Kerryon Johnson fumble 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
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Kansas City, one of four remaining unbeaten teams heading into Sunday's night game, fumbled on its first two possessions of the second half, first on Mecole Hardman’s kick return and then on a Williams run.
The Lions took over at the Chiefs’ 28-yard line after the second fumble, and were first-and-goal at the 1 two plays later. Johnson tried to burrow through the middle of the Chiefs’ defensive line but lost control of the ball as he stretched for the end zone while on his back.
Few on the field realized the ball came loose until Breeland dug it out of a pile, ran past a half-hearted tackle attempt from Kenny Golladay at the goal line and raced down the Lions sideline as three players came onto the field for the next play.
Officials never blew a whistle, waiting instead for their replay brethren to decide if the Johnson was down before the ball came free.
Johnson said he thought the play was dead, but acknowledged, “I shouldn’t be reaching the ball out anyway.”
“My perspective is, they called it a fumble,” Johnson said. “We lost three or seven points, which turned into seven points for them, we lost by three points, so obviously it hurt. Big play in the game, we had a lot of momentum going for us, kind of killed it. I take full responsibility for it.”
The Lions answered with a 53-yard Matt Prater field goal on the next possession, then forced a third straight Chiefs fumble on the ensuing drive.
Matthew Stafford threw a laser of an 8-yard touchdown pass through four defenders to Kenny Golladay, then threw his second touchdown to Golladay with 2:26 to play to give the Lions a 30-27 lead and set the stage for Mahomes’ heroics.
Mahomes finished 24 of 42 passing for 315 yards, and Williams scored two touchdowns for the Chiefs (4-0).
Stafford completed 21 of 34 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions (2-1-1), but threw incomplete on two Hail Mary passes in the game’s final 9 seconds. Johnson added a season-high 125 yards rushing on 26 carries.
“I don’t think we need to prove anything to anybody,” Stafford said. “We love the way we practice, the way we work, the way we come out and play. We’re a good football team. Lost to another good football team today. There were a bunch of great plays in this game, a couple of bad plays by each team made in this game. That’s the way it goes in the NFL. Came down to the last 15 seconds. They were undefeated coming into this game, so were we. Somebody was going to have to lose. Obviously, you want to win them all at home. It was a good opportunity to beat a good team and we were darn close.”
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Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.