There are no moral victories in the NFL, not when so many livelihoods ride on the outcomes of games.
But something felt different about the Detroit Lions’ 28-25 Thanksgiving loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday.
Josh Allen led the game-winning field goal drive with 23 seconds to play. Jared Goff missed an important third-down throw late. Austin Bryant had a foolish penalty that set up a key Buffalo score.
But while their three-game winning streak came to a frustrating end and they fell further behind in the NFC playoff race, the Lions seem closer than ever to being a bona fide contender.
“This isn’t the (bleeping) same old Lions anymore,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “We’re going to go out there and we’re going to get our respect, and we’re going to earn that respect. We came up short today, but week in and week out we know we’re going to go out there and we’re going to bring it. And we’re not going to get down, we’re going to keep fighting. And those will turn into wins against those sorts of teams, those high-caliber teams. And I think we’re still trending up, I really do.”
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The Lions went toe-to-toe with one of the AFC’s leading Super Bowl contenders Thursday, trading haymakers in a wild fourth quarter that ended with Allen showing why he’s one of the best quarterbacks in football.
Trailing 22-19 midway through the period, Allen led the Bills (8-3) to nine points in the final 2:40 as Buffalo won its second straight game at Ford Field after beating the Cleveland Browns last Sunday in a game that was relocated from western New York due to snowy conditions.
Allen completed 7 of 8 passes and ran for two first downs on a 14-play, 90-yard drive in which the Bills never had a third down. He capped the possession with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs two plays after Bryant was called for roughing the passer on a second-and-10 incompletion.
Bryant said he did not realize Allen had thrown the ball when he tossed the quarterback to the ground.
After a missed extra point, the Lions answered with a 10-play, 42-yard drive, trying to tie the game at the 25 on Michael Badgley’s 51-yard field goal after Goff threw incomplete deep to DJ Chark on third-and-1 with 28 seconds left. to play.
The Bills started their final possession at their own 25-yard line with 23 seconds on the clock, setting the stage for Allen’s heroics.
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Allen opened the drive with a 36-yard pass to Diggs down the middle of the field, then ran for 12 yards on two designated quarterback keepers to the Detroit 27-yard line.
Tyler Bass made the game-winning 45-yard field goal with 2 seconds to play, and the Lions fumbled a desperation lateral play as time expired on the ensuing kickoff.
After the game, Campbell said “it should sting that we lost that game because we had our opportunities, but that doesn’t mean we’ve taken a step back” after consecutive wins over the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants. .
At 4-7, the Lions remain in the thick of the NFC wild card hunt, but have little margin for error over the final six games.
“We belong and they should know that, and they do know that,” Campbell said. “And they knew we had an opportunity, which they earned that opportunity. We just didn’t close it out. And those guys made the plays and it’s a credit to them over there. But I do feel growth from our team and I feel us getting better.”
Goff defended the play call on his errant third-and-1 pass to Chark, saying it was “a great call” that gave him four options to choose from and he simply made a bad throw.
Chark had a step on Bills cornerback Dane Jackson on the play, but Goff put the ball short and behind his intended receiver.
One play earlier, on second-and-15 from the Buffalo 47, Amon-Ra St. Brown was stopped inches short of a first down.
“I wish I had thrown a different ball,” Goff said. “I thought the play call was great and had some options what to do there, and, yeah, if you had to do it again, would you do something differently? I don’t know, maybe, but if I throw a better ball, it might not matter. But yeah, unfortunately, that’s going to be the play that gets focused on, but there’s a lot of plays that could have gone either way today as well.”
Goff finished 23 of 37 passing for 240 yards and two touchdowns, St. Brown had nine catches for 122 yards and a score and Jamaal Williams ran for 66 yards on 18 carries and had his league-leading 13th rushing touchdown of the season for the Lions, who have lost six straight on Thanksgiving.
Allen completed 24 of 42 passes for 253 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and ran for 78 yards and a score on 10 carries for the Bills.
“It just hurts,” Decker said. “Because we’ve been doing a lot of really, really good things and I feel like we’re kind of rolling now and if we could have gotten that one, it would have been huge. So huge. But I will say that our confidence is not going to wane. It’s not going to change our approach. Cause all you can ask for is an opportunity at the end of the game to win the game. We know against a team like that, it’s going to be down to the wire and it’s going to be the full 60 minutes. And ultimately they just made more plays than we did.”
Contact Dave Birkett at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions’ confidence grows despite Thanksgiving loss to Bills