By JAMES COOK
---- — By the time Sam Martin’s punt only went 27 yards and set up Cincinnati’s winning field goal, the Detroit Lions had already done plenty to keep the Bengals in the game.
The Lions were unable to capitalize on the Bengals defense, which is normally very good.
Then cornerback Leon Hall left the game early. And linebacker Rey Maualuga left.
Those two huge holes in the defense should have allowed the Lions to move downfield much more easily. And yet they didn’t.
Yes, Detroit (4-3) had two backup linemen manning the tackle positions — and both are former undrafted free agents — after Riley Reiff and Corey Hilliard went down with injuries. However, it wasn’t the play of LaAdrian Waddle and Dylan Gandy that hampered the offense that couldn’t score against a Cincinnati (5-2) defense with two gaping holes in it.
Matthew Stafford can make every throw in the NFL. He just doesn’t as much of the time as his talent says he should. That was evident in several overthrows of receivers that could have led to touchdowns Sunday.
It’s hard to pinpoint why the Lions lost this game — and easy to pin it on Martin, who had been stellar up until his final boot.
Detroit kept its penalties low (only four for 30 yards), didn’t turn the ball over, won time of possession, outrushed Cinci, received its biggest day of production from Calvin Johnson and didn’t play that poorly on defense (aside from one 82-yard bomb to A.J. Green in which a safety was out of position and moved up to cover an area in the flat where there wasn’t a receiver).
Those things point to what should be a successful football result. Especially when a team can accomplish all that against another very good squad.
But pinning it all on Martin isn’t quite fair.
If the Bengals hadn’t blocked a David Akers field goal, Martin’s poor punt wouldn’t have mattered, as Cinci would have need a touchdown instead of a field goal. If Stafford hadn’t overthrown receivers regularly, the game is out of reach in the final minutes and the punt doesn’t matter. If the defensive line generates some pressure (or more than on sack by Ndamukong Suh), things could be different. Chris Houston played poorly and was benched in favor of second-round pick Darius Slay, who hasn’t been able to take a job away from a 33-yard cornerback.
Houston said the game was “probably the worst football ... I played in my life.”
“I put the whole game on me,” Houston said after the game. “No matter what nobody says, no matter how the coaches try to put it, I put the whole game on me.”
And not on a rookie punter.