Detroit Lions lose ninth straight, insist there's 'lots of hope' for 2020

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Don Muhlbach has seen more bad football than anyone should be allowed to witness in his 16 seasons in Detroit.

He was there when the team fired Steve Mariucci in November of 2005, there when fans staged a Millen Man March a few weeks later (and again the next year), there when the Lions became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.

But as bad this season was — and with nine straight losses to end the year and a 3-12-1 record that secured the Lions the third pick in April’s NFL draft, it was pretty awful — Muhlbach said there’s no comparison to the hopelessness he experienced early in his career.

“This is nothing like 0-16. Nothing like that,” Muhlbach said from the middle of a mostly empty locker room Sunday. “0-16 was the worst, and this thing didn’t come close to that.”

The Lions, playing in front of a home crowd that had a heavy Green Bay feel, squandered a 14-point first-half lead Sunday and lost to the Packers, 23-20, on a 33-yard Mason Crosby field goal as time expired.

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David Blough threw what he described as a boneheaded fourth-quarter interception to set up the game-tying touchdown, and the Lions defense, as was the case all season, couldn’t get a stop when it needed one most.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones celebrates a first down against Detroit Lions safety Tavon Wilson during the final minutes of the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 at Ford Field.

But Muhlbach, looking fatherly in a collared shirt and dress pants, said he heads into the offseason with “lots of hope” for the future.

“We were in every game,” Muhlbach said. “Just little things that we got to clean up that are us. And that’s — the good thing is, those are fixable. It’s not relying on somebody else, so we can fix what we need to fix and we’ll be fine.”

The Lions spewed that company line all season, though they never fixed what ailed them after a 2-0-1 start.

They were a fourth-down stop away from beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, an officiating call or two away from topping the NFC North-champion Packers two weeks later, and on Sunday they were a few plays — and maybe a few healthy bodies — from upending the Packers again.

“I felt like the game was in some ways a microcosm of our season,” guard Graham Glasgow said. “We started out really well and we were — I mean, this wasn’t true for the whole season, but we were running the ball really well and I felt like we ran the ball well all game. But just when it came to the second half and finishing the game, we didn’t pull it out.”

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The Lions, who held a lead in 14 of the 16 games they played this season, jumped out to an early 14-0 advantage Sunday.

They opened the scoring on a trick play, when Danny Amendola took a pitch on a wide receiver end-around and threw across the field to a wide-open David Blough for a 19-yard touchdown, and added to their lead with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kerryon Johnson on fourth-and-goal.

Up 17-3 at halftime, the wheels came off for the Lions in the third quarter, when they managed one first down and 18 yards of offense and let a Packers team in need of a win to secure a first-round bye, take control of the game.

“I know to a lot of people there wasn’t much on the line, but to us there is every single week,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We’re going to go out and we’re going to compete, and we’re going to play that game and we’re going to do everything we can. We have an opportunity to go compete in the National Football League, I think you should do everything possible to do your best. I think the team in that locker room does that really well. We just got to make some more plays to win. I think that’s the bottom line.”

After completing just one of his seven passes in the first quarter, Aaron Rodgers threw two second-half touchdowns for the Packers.

He found Davante Adams for a 20-yard score late in the third quarter, then seven plays after Blough badly underthrew Chris Lacy for a Blake Martinez interception, hit Allen Lazard for the game-tying 28-yard pass with 5:19 to play.

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay gives up a touchdown to Green Bay Packers receiver Allen Lazard during the second half Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 at Ford Field.

The Lions had a chance to win when they started their final possession at their own 26 with 1:40 left, but Blough threw incomplete on second and third down and the Lions punted the ball away after running just 14 seconds off the clock.

Tavon Wilson was called for a personal foul for a hit on a sliding Rodgers on the next play from scrimmage, and Aaron Jones took a screen pass 31 yards to set up Crosby’s game-winning kick.

Rodgers completed 27 of 55 passes for 323 yards, and Jones had 100 yards rushing for the Packers, who’ll finish as the first or second seed in the NFC depending on Sunday’s late San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks game.

Blough was 12-of-29 passing for 122 yards for the Lions, who are expected to make changes to their defensive coaching staff this week and soon after will start planning for free agency and the draft.

Among the holes the Lions have to fill this offseason are backup quarterback; right guard, where Glasgow is a free agent; defensive tackle, where A’Shawn Robinson is a free agent and Damon Harrison is considering retirement; and perhaps cornerback, should they choose to trade Darius Slay.

“There’s only one team happy at the end of the year, but with that being said, you have to think about a loss for the next nine months or whatever, till August or September,” Muhlbach said. “It eats at you a little bit. I’m sure that’ll be the case here and you just get back next year and try to be better.”

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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