Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor and sports writer Dave Birkett react to another painful Lions loss to Cowboys, 26-24, Sept. 30, 2018.
Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
ARLINGTON, Texas — Jarrad Davis isn’t one to hide his emotions, and so he was sitting in front of his locker after Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys with a towel draped over his head.
“It’s just the whole game,” Davis said minutes later, long after most of his teammates had cleared the locker room. “One play doesn’t define the game, but it’s just I want to make plays, I want to win the game and it’s just frustrating to lose like that.”
The Detroit Lions lost another game like that Sunday.
Lions grades: Poor marks everywhere for the defense
They couldn’t stop the run. They committed too many penalties. And when the game was on the line, after Matthew Stafford led the go-ahead touchdown drive with just over two minutes to play, they couldn’t come up with the one defensive play they needed.
Ezekiel Elliott had 240 yards from scrimmage, and beat Davis for a 34-yard pass down the home sideline to set up Brett Maher’s winning 38-yard field goal, as the Cowboys rallied to beat the Lions at AT&T Stadium.
“It was a matchup we liked,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of the game-defining play. “Dak (Prescott) liked (what) we saw from the coverage, Zeke did a great job on the route. A big-time throw. … Critical situation to make that throw and for Zeke to be able to finish and put us in position for the game-winner was big-time.”
Elliott had his way with the NFL’s last-ranked rushing defense, running for 152 yards on 25 carries. But in need of a big play as the clock ticked down its final minutes, the Cowboys singled their All-Pro running back up against Davis, a second-year linebacker who has struggled in pass coverage in the NFL.
On second-and-10 from the Dallas 41, Elliott lined up slot right, and ran a fade route against Davis.
Davis was slow reacting off the snap, and Prescott dropped a pretty pass over Elliott’s left shoulder as Davis chased him in coverage.
The catch gave the Cowboys a first-and-10 at the Lions’ 25-yard line, and four plays later Maher kicked the winner as time expired.
“There’s not really a whole lot I can say,” Davis said. “Dak threw a great ball. Put it in the right spot where he needed it to be, but I just got to be in a better position as a defender to make a play on that ball and get it off of him and just (play it) all the way to the ground. The way the catch rule’s set up in this league, anything can happen so just got to make sure I finish that play as a football player.”
Elliott, who entered Sunday with 37 yards receiving on the season, had four catches for 88 yards against the Lions. He also scored on a 38-yard screen pass in the second quarter.
“Anyway he got the ball he was dominating the game and setting the tone,” Prescott said. “From the screen to … the last play right there. He just showed how physical he was in the run game and it was just a dominating performance for him.”
For the Lions, it was another in a string of disappointing performances, save for the Week 3 upset of the New England Patriots.
The Lions are 1-3, with losses to the New York Jets (1-3) and San Francisco 49ers (1-3), and they haven’t played a team that currently has a winning record.
They allowed 414 total yards of offensive and committed eight costly penalties, including one on a third-down incompletion in the fourth quarter that kept alive a Cowboys field-goal drive.
“We didn’t execute the details of the game and it caught up with us at the end of the game,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “I take my hat off to that team. That team did its job and came out and executed. They wanted it more than us, they executed when they needed to. They pounced on all our penalties, they scored when they needed to score. This game was more about us. It was us that put this game where it was.”
The Lions led 10-6 early in the second quarter before the Cowboys scored 14 straight points.
Elliott scored on a screen pass when Davis couldn’t get off a Zack Martin block, and Prescott hit Geoff Swaim for a 1-yard touchdown, set up by several Elliott runs, late in the third quarter.
Stafford nearly rallied the Lions to his 33rd comeback victory with two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Kerryon Johnson scored his first career rushing touchdown from 8 yards out, and after the Cowboys answered with a long field-goal drive aided by that offsides penalty, Golden Tate sneaked behind the Cowboys’ secondary for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Lions nearly thwarted the Cowboys’ final drive before Elliott’s heroics, when Da’Shawn Hand swatted the ball out of Prescott’s hands on second-and-3 just after the two-minute warning. But Prescott recovered the fumble and threw the ball away into the Dallas bench to keep the drive alive.
Prescott converted third-and-3 on the next snap, and two plays later Elliott beat Davis for the play of the game.
“Obviously there was a lot of not very good coverage out there tonight,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We’ve got to do a better job. They seemed to be able to pass the ball really well. Pass rush, coverage-wise, all of it was not good enough tonight.”
Prescott, who had not thrown for more than 200 yards in a game since the middle of last December, completed 17 of 27 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
Stafford was 24 of 30 passing for 307 yards for the Lions, and Tate had catches for a season-high 132 yards and two scores.
“We work so long, through OTAs, through camp, we work through so much and to get that close and have it ripped away like that, it sucks,” Davis said. “I just know we got to continue to work hard and continue to go out every single day and make sure that we put our best foot forward and put this one behind us but also learn from our mistakes.”
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.