The Detroit Lions lost their sixth straight Thanksgiving Day game, falling 28-25 to the Buffalo Bills.
The defeat snapped a three-game winning streak, and while there are no moral victories in the NFL, Thursday's loss certainly wasn't the blowout most expected when the schedule came out in the spring.
Dan Campbell's team battled the high-powered Bills, forcing late-game heroics from Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs for Buffalo to escape with a win.
"This isn't the (expletive) same old Lions anymore," left tackle Taylor Decker said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "We're going to go out there, and we're going to get our respect, and we're going to earn that respect. We came up short today, but week in and week out, we know we're going to go out there, and we're going to bring it. And we're not going to get down, we're going to keep fighting. And those will turn into wins against those sorts of teams, those high-caliber teams. And I think we're still trending up, I really do."
The Lions' offense continues to be a fun combination of smashing runs and creative routes from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Amon-Ra St. Brown (9/122/1) remains a force at receiver, and Jamaal Williams is a battering ram at the goal line with 13 touchdowns on the season.
The defense played well for stretches, generating a red-zone interception and three consecutive punts in the third and fourth quarters as the Lions earned a lead in the final frame. However, it collapsed late, allowing the Bills to storm back.
The most significant difference between Detroit and Buffalo Sunday: One team has Josh Allen, the other Jared Goff.
Thursday showed the margin for error from the rebuilding Lions is too great to beat the heavyweights. Errors killed the Lions' chances of pulling off the upset; Williams fumbled as Detroit marched across midfield in the second quarter; Goff took a bad safety; Mike Badgley missed a 29-yard field goal; Campbell mismanaged the end-of-game drive.
The final dagger came on a miscommunication between Goff and D.J. Chark on a third-and-1 shot play. Instead of running the ball to pick up a first down, the QB attempted to throw a back-shoulder pass to Chark, who had a step deep and thought the throw would be upfield. The miscue set up the Bills' game-winning drive.
To be sure, there are building blocks in Detroit. When healthy, the offensive line is a wrecking crew. St. Brown is a star. First-round pick Aidan Hutchinson has smashed. Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez owns a nose for the ball. Defensive lineman Alim McNeill has been a wrecker in the middle.
General manager Brad Holmes has done an excellent job of reworking a moribund roster, and Campbell and his staff get players to battle.
"We belong and they should know that, and they do know that," Campbell said. "And they knew we had an opportunity, which they earned that opportunity. We just didn't close it out. And those guys made the plays and it's a credit to them over there. But I do feel growth from our team and I feel us getting better."
Falling to 4-7, Detroit remains on the outskirts of playoff position. The schedule is favorable down the stretch, with just two games against teams currently .500 or better. But the reality is that the Lions are another offseason away from truly inserting themselves into the postseason discussion.