DETROIT - The Lions failed another big test on Sunday. If the Lions are ever going to be taken seriously and be regarded as a real contender in the NFL, they are going to have to beat some good teams.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a good team. Some even think they have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl this season. It was a perfect spot for the Lions to prove they belong as well. But the Lions couldn't do what most had hoped.
Instead, the Lions dropped a 27-24 loss to the Bengals before a sold out crowd of 63,207 at Ford Field.
The Bengals (5-2) kicked a 54-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired. The Lions dropped to 4-3 and host the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday.
The Lions were looking to move up in the league rankings, beating both the Bengals and Cowboys.
"There are no moral victories here anymore," Lions' center Dominic Raiola said. "We're beyond that. We're too good of a team to say, 'ah, man, we were close.'"
Close only counts in the game of horseshoes.
The Lions suffered their first loss of the season at home after beating Minnesota and Chicago.
"Yeah, you always want to win, especially at home," said Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns. "It's tough not to. Guys have to learn from this one and bounce back to be ready to go next week."
Most thought the Lions would be looking to go 6-2 before their bye. A win over Cincy and Dallas would have put them in that position at the halfway mark.
And after the Lions came back from a 21-10 second-half deficit to tie the game at 24-24 on Calvin Johnson's sick 50-yard touchdown reception in the middle of three Bengal defenders in the fourth quarter, most fans thought they were on their way to winning -- sadly not.
Lions' punter Sam Martin kicked a terrible 28-yard punt from deep in the Lions' end. It allowed Cincinnati to start the game-winning drive at their yard line.
"It was one of those things," Martin said. "You're going left, you're rushing yourself, trying to keep the ball away from the returner. You drop it low inside and that's the result you get."
Three plays later Mike Nugent kicked a 54-yarder to win the game.
"It's one of those things where you are hoping it doesn't go in," Lions' safety Glover Quin said about the game-winning kick. "You don't want the game to end on them making a 50-yard field goal. We would love to make that kick. It was a heavyweight battle."
Coming into the game, the Lions, however, were sitting pretty at 4-2. They won two road games, including a streak-buster in D.C. They also won both home games. It set up a favorable rest of the season, where the Lions would have six of their final 10 games at home.
Most would look at the situation and believe there was a good chance for them to make it to the playoffs. It's not always that easy, though. In 2011, when they made the postseason for the first time since 2000, the Lions started 5-0, but finished the season 5-6.
Ultimately it will be about the Lions making the postseason. Some believe ownership won't truly be happy until the team finally wins a playoff game.
The Lions have won just one playoff game since 1957 -- that one coming in 1991. So while a second trip to the playoffs in three years would be good, it's about winning in the postseason, not just getting there.
In order to get to that place, beating teams in the playoffs, you have to start in the regular season. Make no mistake about it, this was a bad loss.
"It's tough," said Johnson, who had two touchdowns. "We're both fighting for 5-2, we're tops in our division. We're playing good ball."
"To come up with a loss like this, we knew it was going to come down to a play or two at the end of the game and it definitely did. We were on the wrong end of that."
Sadly, once again.
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