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Lions-Panthers recap - Chapter II

Three questionable coaching decisions contributed to the Lions' 31-22 loss to Carolina Sunday. The first came late in the third quarter when Detroit chose to punt on fourth-and-8 from the Panthers' 40 rather than try a 58-yard field goal.

That's a long kick, but Jason Hanson made a 56-yarder a quarter earlier with plenty of distance to spare, the wind was at his back (as it was in the second quarter), the Lions were down, 24-16.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli said he never considered trying the field goal, though Hanson is 6-of-6 on 50-plus-yarders this year. “I just felt at that time, no,” Marinelli said.

That decision came back to bite the Lions in the fourth quarter. When Daunte Culpepper scored on a 1-yard sneak with 6:05 to play, the Lions needed a two-point conversion to tie. Culpepper was stuffed at the goal line on a designed run. Had Hanson made a 58-yarder, the extra point would have give the Lions a 26-24 lead and dramatically altered how the final six minutes were played.

“I might have gave it a shot, I think,” said Shaun Cody, a blocker on the field-goal unit. “I don't know. (Hanson's) been a stud all year and if there's a lone bright spot on this team, what's going on, it's definitely him and what he's doing and performing at the age he is and the years he's played. He's a stud.”

The other decisions involved Marinelli's choice to punt with 4:28 to play and the Lions facing fourth-and-4 at their own 26, and the Lions accepting a delay-of-game penalty a couple minutes later with the ball at their own 39.

I would have gone for it on fourth down (the Lions punted and Carolina ran four plays and 1:30 off the clock). You're down nine at the time so you need two scores. You're counting on a three-and-out by your defense either way, so even if you fail you're still two touchdowns from a win. And the time and your timeouts are your most precious commodities.

Marinelli's explanation: “I just felt if we didn't get it there, game's over for sure.”

As for the penalty, the Lions gave punter Jason Baker five extra yards to work with for no reason (after Carolina declined a similar penalty on Detroit earlier in the game). Baker landed his kick at the 5-yard line and Dante Wesley downed it at the 2. With 98 yards of field in front of them, the Lions didn't stand much chance to score.

Marinelli's explanation: “We did (consider declining the penalty). After talking with (special-teams coach Stan Kwan), he felt let's take it back. It gave us a better opportunity. That was our thought.”

A couple other random musings before I sign off:

• Daunte Culpepper and Calvin Johnson are nowhere close to in sync, not that I'd expect them to be with less than two weeks of practice time. Several times Sunday, Culpepper appeared to be expecting Johnson to do one thing and the receiver did another. The most egregious instance came on Culpepper's second interception, when he bootlegged right, froze a defender and caught Johnson's eye for a second before launching a pass. Johnson took off upfield and Charles Godfrey had an easy interception to seal the game. “We're going to work those kinks out the longer we're together,” Johnson said.

• I thought Michael Gaines fumbled just before the two-minute warning in the first half, but I won't argue with those who say the replay was inconclusive and the call on the field (down before the ball came loose) never should have been overturned. Said Gaines,  “I thought I was down but at the end of the day, that ain't the play that cost us the game.”

• Culpepper on whether he was facemasked on his failed two-point conversion attempt: “I don't know. It happened so fast I couldn't tell you.”

• Young defensive linemen Ikaika Alama-Francis, Andre Fluellen, Cliff Avril and Landon Cohen held their own in their most extensive action to date. Sure the Lions missed Dewayne White and Jared Devries, but the young foursome was much less a reason they lost then the play of their back seven. Fluellen missed a sack early and bounced off Steve Smith late, but Marinelli complimented his play. “When you have an opportunity to go Wally Pipp somebody and get better, and he did that. I was really excited about that,” he said. Marinelli also said Fluellen could settle in at defensive end instead of tackle because of his quick feet and agility.

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