This summer, we're looking closer at what went right and wrong during the 2012 Detroit Lions season. In the coming weeks, we'll count down the top 10 plays which made a difference in the team's performance and record last season. Today, we begin things with an examination of number 10.
Entering a road contest on Monday Night Football at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Detroit Lions were trying to right the ship. After high expectations, they had started the season a dismal 2-3 and needed a big performance against the Chicago Bears to feel good early in the year.
Despite the fact the Lions hadn't won in Chicago since 2007 and the Bears were ahead of the team in the standings, they didn't look much better, even at home. After a quick early touchdown and plenty of troublesome momentum for Detroit, the Bears only mounted a 10 point lead by halftime thanks to offensive inefficiency. The Lions' "bend but not break" defensive approach was on display.
Finally, early in the third quarter after another Robbie Gould field goal, the Lions offense began to make moves. A few long passes helped move the chains and get the ball on Chicago's side of the field. With Detroit in the red zone, a penalty on the Bears placed the ball paces off their goal line. The 13-0 lead looked tenuous.
Joique Bell, often used as the Lions "sledgehammer" runner, checked in. He got the hand off from Matthew Stafford and tried to vault over the stacked defensive pile. Immediately, the ball came loose and was quickly smothered by Brian Urlacher. The play would prove huge, as the Lions managed to score and keep things close in the fourth. The fumble had made a difference.
After Detroit fell apart in the game, they would rally to even their record at 4-4 before completely bottoming out. The Bears used the momentum to post two more dominating victories in a row, looking the part of Super Bowl contenders in early November. Had Bell not fumbled on such a critical play during such an important moment of the game, fortunes may have been different for each team.
With a bit of offensive momentum and down only a touchdown with plenty of game left, the Lions could have forged a comeback on the road. A win over a division rival could have helped early season momentum greatly, and may have sparked something greater. Instead, the loss was just one of many Detroit would lament later on.
Certainly, there's a lesson in this experience for the 2013 Lions. Attention to detail near the goal line and red zone is important, especially in a close road game. At the end of a season, a handful of plays can make the difference in a record, and Detroit must turn mistake plays like this around to improve.
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