Lions’ defense can’t get enough stops to set up Stafford’s late magic

Matthew Stafford was ready for his fifth fourth-quarter comeback victory of the season.

The Detroit Lions’ defense never gave him a chance.

Stafford led the Lions to 10 fourth-quarter points, but the Houston Texans ran enough time off the clock to secure a 20-13 victory.

Houston had been struggling offensively under Brock Osweiler, but the Lions’ defense couldn’t shut them down with injured Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy and Darius Slay on the sidelines. Osweiler didn’t throw deep very often, but he consistently found holes in Detroit’s secondary to keep drives alive. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.

Osweiler also was aided by Detroit’s ineffective pass rush. The Lions did get three sacks, but couldn’t force Houston’s inexperienced quarterback out of the pocket on a consistent basis. Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who had 15 sacks a year ago, still doesn’t have one this year.

Osweiler did take points off the board at the end of the first half, throwing an interception deep in Lions territory, but it wasn’t enough for Detroit. Houston was also able to move the ball on the ground, with Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue combining for 97 yards and a touchdown.

At the same time, the Detroit offense was struggling against a tough Houston defense. Teams have had success running against the Texans, but Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner only carried the ball 14 times. That left the game, as always, in Stafford’s hands.

Houston only sacked him once, but the pass rush prevented Stafford from getting the ball down the field. Marvin Lewis caught three passes for 33 yards, and while Golden Tate caught seven balls, he picked up just 42 yards. Eric Ebron had some success, with seven catches for 79 yards, but too much of Detroit’s offense came on check-down passes.

Still, it looked like Stafford might get a chance for a fifth game-winning drive. On the second play of the fourth quarter, he hit Riddick for a 1-yard touchdown pass to cut Houston’s lead to 17-10. Detroit’s defense made its only stand of the fourth quarter, forcing a three-and-out. The Lions took over on their 22, but guard Graham Glasgow’s block-in-the-back penalty ruined the drive.

The Texans took over with 10:14 to play, and ran six minutes off the clock on a drive that ended in a field goal and a 20-10 lead. Five of Houston’s first six plays were rushes, and they picked up 47 yards. Lions coach Jim Caldwell chose not to call a timeout before the field goal, letting 40 seconds run off the clock.

Stafford quickly moved the Lions deep into Texans territory, but the drive stalled, and Matt Prater kicked a 34-yard field goal with 2:57 play.

With all three timeouts left, the Lions could have kicked deep and tried to give Stafford a shot at a tying touchdown. Instead, Caldwell went for an onside kick that bounced right to Houston defensive back Robert Nelson.

The Lions still had a slim shot, but four running plays picked up 25 yards and two first downs. That allowed the Texans to run out the clock at the Detroit 20 and drop the Lions to 4-3.

Things won’t get easier for the Lions, who now head to Minnesota. It isn’t known whether any of the three key defenders will return for the Vikings game, and the running game isn’t likely to find any answers against one of the league’s best defenses.

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