Unlike college football — or football at any other level — in the NFL, games can end in a tie. That’s right, at the very peak of this country’s most popular sport, two teams can still go home at the end of the day without any semblance of resolution.
The Detroit Lions found themselves in that particular spot on Sunday after finishing in a 16-16 draw against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It might feel even worse than some of the losses the Lions have suffered this season.
In Week 3, the Lions lost to the Baltimore Ravens in a way that had literally never been seen before. Plenty of teams have lost on a last-second field goal, but not from the distance Justin Tucker sniped them — a mind-numbing 66-yards away.
Two weeks later in Minnesota, after a thrilling comeback against the Vikings, Dan Campbell went with his gut after the Lions scored a touchdown late. Instead of kicking for the tie, Detroit went for two and got it. Like with the Ravens, though, they left too much time on the clock. Greg Joseph sent a 54-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired to seal the Vikings’ victory. As Kirk Cousins and Mike Zimmer exchanged the weirdest shoving match celebration in NFL history the Blue and Silver left the field stunned once again.
It was supposed to be different this time against the Steelers.
The stage was set. The Lions won the coin toss headed into overtime. Their opening drive fizzled, but that didn’t matter after the defense forced a Pittsburgh fumble. All they needed was a field goal to win it. Jared Goff didn’t storm the offense down the field, but they drove far enough into Pittsburgh territory to set up Santoso with a 48-yard attempt. This was supposed to be the moment Detroit could control the final possession and erase the goose egg on their side of the win column.
Santoso’s kick was never close. The rest, as they say, was very boring history.
What separated this game from Detroit’s two last-second losses was that their offense had a chance to have the final say against the Steelers. Their failure to come through makes the outcome even more devastating.
A tie might be even worse than just losing the game outright. After the game, Campbell didn’t know how to feel.
“I’m in a Twilight Zone. I don’t know what this is really. I’m sure I’ve been in a tie before as a player but for some reason I can’t remember that. So I don’t know, it’s just…I just go back…I’m just proud of the way they played, man. They snapped back. We were better than we were two weeks ago. Now what we have to do is improve from this week and find a way to beat Cleveland next week.”
A Twilight Zone might be the perfect way to describe Detroit’s mental state after emptying the tank for four quarters, plus overtime, without getting a definitive result.
Goff, who had a miserable day while dealing with an oblique injury, had a different perspective on the outcome.
“It’s my first tie, if I remember correctly,” he said. “It feels better than a loss, but still not where we need to be. It’s a step in the right direction and encouraging the way we fought and some of the plays that were available on offense.”
The tie ensures that the Lions won’t have the first-ever 0-17 season, but getting to that spot via a draw feels like a lost cause. There are winnable games left on this schedule. Still, finishing in a tie on the road against the Steelers might be more deflating than it is motivating, at least in the short term. It’s yet another performance where the Lions just couldn’t muster up one or two more plays to seal the deal.
As Campbell noted, their focus is shifting to the Browns next week, but the frustrations from the Pittsburgh game might linger. The Lions had opportunities. They won the turnover battle 3-0. The game was in their grasp in overtime. Yet the end result, albeit not a loss, felt all too familiar — perhaps even a little worse than some of the eight losses they’ve stacked up this year.
Maybe next week will be different?