Lions can't just rely on last-minute comebacks

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions were in a familiar spot, down a few points with time running out - only this time, they couldn't get the ball back.

That's the problem with putting yourself in that position too many times.

There would be no Matthew Stafford-led comeback at the end of Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Houston Texans. Instead, the Lions fell back to .500, which seemed appropriate given how many of their games could have gone either way. Detroit hasn't had a game decided by more than seven points this season.

Despite last weekend's loss, the Lions (4-4) are certainly in a better spot than at this time last season, when they had dropped seven of their first eight games. This season, Detroit has recovered from a 1-3 start, so the second quarter of the schedule went considerably better than the first.

''We had a 3-1 quarter. We had a little hiccup at the end,'' coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. ''We're getting ready to start all over again just in terms of our next quarter coming up against obviously a very tough opponent. So what I tell you is that we've made some improvement.''

The Lions play at Minnesota on Sunday, the last game before Detroit's open date. At the midway point, the Lions are certainly in the playoff race, but in all four of their victories, the winning points came in the final two minutes. They were certainly cutting it close.

Against the Texans on Sunday, Detroit kicked a field goal with 2:53 left to pull within a touchdown. After an unsuccessful onside kick, the Lions couldn't stop Houston, allowing two first downs that let the Texans run out the clock.

''Obviously, we wanted to get on the field, it just didn't work out,'' wide receiver Golden Tate said. ''We've got to do a better job of not putting our team in that situation, where we need to be playing from behind like that.''

The Lions held Houston to only 23 yards rushing in the first half before allowing 82 in the second, and although the Texans didn't score much after taking a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, they moved the ball enough to hold on for the win.

''I just think there were some situations there where they just did a little bit better job at the end than we did,'' Caldwell said. ''They blocked us up in a couple situations and maybe a couple situations where we missed a tackle here or there. There were a few things, there wasn't just one thing. They did a better job down the stretch.''

Detroit beat Indianapolis in its season opener on a field goal with 4 seconds left, and its victory over Washington two weekends ago came on a touchdown with 16 seconds remaining. The Lions have had some close losses as well, but their defeat against Tennessee was the only one in which the lead changed late. They've been on the right side of most of their exciting finishes so far, and it was always fair to wonder if that would be sustainable.

Stafford has been very good, and the addition of receiver Marvin Jones has helped Detroit withstand Calvin Johnson's retirement, but it's going to be hard for the Lions to reach the postseason if they need last-minute comebacks in so many of their games. That was one of the main lessons from the loss to Houston.

''You'll have games like that against good defenses that play well against you,'' Caldwell said. ''You know, you may not light it up every single time, but we certainly expect to be a little bit more potent than we were.''

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