By Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press –
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There were trick plays and long passes, busted coverages and broken returns, but on a wild day and in a crazy game the Lions lost because they botched the most basic thing of all – an overtime snap.
Shaun Hill replaced an injured Matthew Stafford late in the fourth quarter and rallied the Lions to two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation. But Hill lost a yard on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak that never should have been run as the Titans handed the Lions their second straight loss, 44-41, at LP Field.
“That was a miscommunication,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We were going to try to draw them offsides and crowd was loud and we were just — if they didn’t jump we were going to take the timeout and the ball ended up getting snapped.”
Rod Bironas kicked what turned out to be the game-winning 26-yard field on the opening possession of overtime, when the Titans took advantage of two Lions penalties — one of them incorrectly enforced by replacement officials — to drive down field.
The Lions, who tied the game as time expired in regulation when Titus Young caught a deflected Hail Mary pass for a 46-yard touchdown, wasted no time answering back.
Hill hit Calvin Johnson with a 26-yard pass to put the Lions in field-goal territory, and on third-and-8 he found Mikel Leshoure out of the backfield for a 7-yard gain that came up a few chain links short of a first down.
The Lions lined up with three receivers wide and Leshoure in the backfield on fourth down, and as Hill tapped his left leg behind him and barked a hard count, center Dominic Raiola snapped the ball.
The rest of the Lions offensive line moved a split-second late as a crowd of Titans shoved Hill back then sprinted down field in celebration. The Lions were well short of a first down on measurement, and as players from both teams started to shake hands, referee Gerald Wright interrupted to announce a booth review that upheld the call on the field.
Raiola declined comment while sitting in front of his locker after the game, and Hill and others refused to pass blame their center’s way.
“I’ll take full responsibility for that,” Hill said. “There was a miscommunication. It’s up to the quarterback to get all 11 on the same page, for sure.”
“That’s as clear as I’m going to get, it was miscommunicated,” Schwartz said. “And when it all comes down, that’s the coach’s fault. That’s my fault. I was right there in position to call timeout. If I thought that it wasn’t communicated well, I should have taken the timeout there. So that’s on me.”
In many respects, the Lions (1-2) were fortunate to push the game into overtime as their offense once again settled for field goal after field goal early and they couldn’t stop anyone on defense or special teams.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Titans (1-2) became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of more than 60 yards in the same game.
Tommie Campbell returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter on a throwback play reminiscent of the Music City Miracle. Darius Reynaud fielded the punt on the numbers near the Lions bench, took two steps then threw across field to Campbell, who ran untouched down the Titans sideline.
Jake Locker threw a 61-yard touchdown pass Jared Cook in the second quarter, and after the Lions took a 27-20 lead on a Stafford-to-Nate Burleson touchdown and two-point conversion midway through the fourth, Reynaud returned the kickoff 105 yards to tie the game.
The Lions’ ensuing drive stalled after a Brandon Pettigrew holding penalty, and Nate Washington scored on a 71-yard pass from Locker that he plucked off cornerback Jacob Lacey’s back.
Alterraun Verner ripped a pass out of Pettigrew’s hands on the Lions’ next series and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown – Stafford pulled up with a strained leg muscle trying to cut off Verner’s path to the end zone – before Hill’s dramatics sent the game to overtime.
“We made too many mistakes, gave up too many big plays,” Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “It’s hard to fathom how we could even be in the game and have a chance at the end. We’re too good of a team, we’ve got too many good players, too many veteran players to give up some of the plays we gave up.”
Stafford completed 33 of 42 passes for 278 yards before he left, but the Lions once again were content to run the ball early against a defense that rarely blitzed and kept two safeties in deep coverage the whole game.
Leshoure, making his NFL debut after missing his rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon and the first two games this year with a suspension, rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries and scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.