Well, it starts here: Reggie Bush played just two snaps in the final two quarters -- a seven-yard run and a fumble, as he and Stafford botched a handoff. Bush then spent the rest of the game on the sideline, limping slightly on the left knee he injured in the first half. And the Lions' offense, minus their electric playmaker out of the backfield, collapsed in a 25-21 loss to Arizona.
"Obviously he’s a big part … but that’s no excuse," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said after his team's first loss of the season.
Schwartz is right in not pinning Detroit's most recent letdown on Bush's absence. Even without their top back in the lineup, the Lions still held a 21-13 lead in the third quarter and had multiple chances to put the game away.
Give some credit (perhaps a lot of credit) to the Cardinals' defense, too. After Patrick Peterson was worked by Calvin Johnson for 96 yards and two TDs in the first half, he and the rest of the secondary stepped up in a big way -- capped by Tyrann Mathieu's fantastic tackle of Nate Burleson, shy of the first-down marker on a 4th-and-4. The Cardinals generated pressure up front, too, forcing Stafford into some poor throws. And a key blocked field goal kept the Lions from padding their edge in the fourth quarter.
Still, the Lions pursued Bush as aggressively as they did in the offseason for a reason. He changes how opposing defenses can approach their offense. The evidence came fast and furious in Week 1, as Bush broke off a long TD catch and Detroit kept Minnesota off balance for a 10-point win.
Even as the underrated Joique Bell gamely stepped into Bush's shoes for the third and fourth quarters Sunday, the Cardinals no longer seemed worried about giving up a big play to anyone other than Johnson. Stafford, meanwhile, failed to find any other reliable targets with Johnson drawing heavy attention. Bell had a drop or two, as did maddeningly inconsistent tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
The Lions have been through this before, on any number of occasions. Look no further than 2012, when Johnson set the NFL record for single-season receptions ... and the Lions finished 4-12 with a disappointing offense and overtaxed defense.
Schwartz and the rest of the franchise now will hold its collective breath Monday, when Bush receives additional tests (including an MRI) on his left knee. The injury initially occurred as Bush leaped to avoid a tackle after a reception, only to take a shoulder on that knee. Schwartz said that Bush could have returned after he and Stafford crossed wires on their third-quarter fumble (a fumble Bush reportedly blamed on the discomfort he felt in his knee), but "[he] didn’t feel like he could explode off of that leg." Without him, the Lions also lost all of their firepower.