The 10 Worst On Field ‘SOL’ Moments In Detroit Lions History

Written By Drew Ellis on July 10, 2023
SOL moments

The phrase “Same Old Lions” is as synonymous with the Detroit Lions franchise as any phrase with any other professional sports team.

Unfortunately, it represents all the embarrassing and illogical ways the Lions have lost games or made mistakes as a franchise.

The end of the 2022-23 NFL season made many Lions fans feel it was finally the start of reversing the trend of “SOL.”

Time will tell if the anticipated 2023-24 NFL season can do just that for the Lions, but sometimes it’s best to wash away a curse by embracing it.

Let’s look back at the 10 biggest SOL moments for the Lions before the new season begins.

Now these moments are limited to just in-game situations.

It’s not being the first 0-16 team in NFL history. It’s not drafting Mike Williams. It’s not drafting Eric Ebron over Aaron Donald. It’s not having Barry Sanders retire by fax before the start of a season.

It’s also not the fact that the Lions haven’t won a playoff game in over 11,500 days and have never appeared in a Super Bowl.

Nope!

Just the 10 worst SOL moments during an actual game.

Grab the hand of someone you love and let’s cleanse ourselves together.

*The NFL’s strict video sharing policies are why some of these highlights aren’t the highest of quality or aren’t included

10. Justin Tucker’s record-setting field goal

The Detroit Lions have a weird connection to the longest field goal record in NFL history.

Back on Nov. 8, 1970, Tom Dempsey kicked the first 63-yard field goal in NFL history against … the Detroit Lions.

That stood for 43 years until Matt Prater (eventual Lion) broke it in 2013 with a 64-yard kick.

Then, all that changed on Sept. 26, 2021 when the Lions hosted the Baltimore Ravens.

Dan Campbell was in his third game as head coach of the Detroit Lions. Detroit has overcome a 13-0 deficit in the second half to take a 17-16 lead with 1:04 to play on a Ryan Santoso 35-yard kick.

On the next Baltimore possession, the Lions sacked Lamar Jackson twice in three plays and forced a 4th and 16. Of course, he hit Sammy Watkins on a 36-yard pass for first down. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh then brought out the legendary leg of Justin Tucker to attempt a 66-yard field goal to end the game.

Tucker already had hit a 61-yard game-winning field goal against the Lions in 2013, but surely he couldn’t hit a 66-yard. That’s insanity.

Tucker launched the kick, which hit the crossbar just to rub it in, then bounce over to count as good and give the Ravens a 19-16 victory.

Instead of being 1-2, Campbell would eventually start his Lions’ coaching career 0-10-1.

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9. Lions lose 2000 finale at home to Chicago Bears

On paper, the Detroit Lions didn’t seem like anything too special for the 2000 season.

Yet, the Barry Sanders-less Lions found themselves at 9-6 heading into the season finale at home on Christmas Eve, just needing a win over the 4-11 Chicago Bears to make the playoffs.

A quick 10-0 lead seemed to be the start of an easy day in Detroit, right? Nope!

The Bears managed to show that 4-win grit and rally in the second half.

R.W. McQuarters had a 61-yard interception return for a TD off backup quarterback Stoney Case to put the Bears up 20-17.

Still, the Lions fought back to tie the game on a Jason Hanson field goal with 1:56 to play, making it 20-20.

The Lions would get the ball again with a chance to win, only to see McQuarters sack Case and force a fumble. Chicago recovered and MSU alum Paul Edinger kicked in a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds to play to crush every Lions fans’ Christmas.

8. Lions forget to cover Sterling Sharpe in 1994 playoffs

Lions fans know quickly that the last playoff win came as part of the 1991 NFL season.

But, just two years later Detroit would win the NFC Central title in the 1993 season and again host a home playoff game.

On Jan. 8, 1994, the Lions hosted the Green Bay Packers, just six days removed from a 30-20 win over Green Bay at home with the division title up for grabs.

Leading 24-21 in the closing minutes, Detroit elected to let Hall of Fame receiver Sterling Sharpe get behind the secondary.

A scrambling Brett Favre hurled a 40-yard pass to the streaking Sharpe with no Lion within seven yards of him for the game-winning touchdown.

Not only would that be Detroit’s last home playoff game, but it would be what officially launched the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers dominance in the NFC Central/North.

7. Jim Schwartz throws the challenge flag

There’s a lot of moments to remember about Jim Schwartz with your head in your hands.

None are more memorable than on Thanksgiving in 2012.

In the third quarter, Houston Texans running back Justin Forsett was clearly down during a rushing attempt, but kept running and the refs let the play continue. Forsett would go 81 yards for what was ruled a touchdown at the moment.

Schwartz elected to throw his challenge flag over the play, but scoring plays were already automatically reviewed in the NFL at this time. By throwing the flag, it was ruled an unsportsmanlike conduct on Detroit and nullified any possible review of the play, giving the Texans the unearned touchdown.

What makes this moment even more special is that just a year prior, Schwartz nearly came to blows with then-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh following a game after yelling at Harbaugh to “learn the f****** rules!” during the contest.

Houston would go on to win the game 34-31 in OT. Detroit fell to 4-7 and ended up 4-12. Schwartz would be fired a year later.

6. Calvin fumbles, Seattle illegally earns touchback

Lions fans have often felt like the NFL world is against them.

This game would see that come into play in a real Molotov cocktail combined with a SOL moment.

On Oct. 5, 2015, the Lions made their way to Seattle to play the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.

It was a defensive battle throughout, but the Lions had a chance to grab the lead late, down 13-10.

Matthew Stafford connected with Calvin Johnson for a 10-yard pass, but as Johnson attempted to get into the end zone for the go-ahead score, Seattle’s Kam Chancellor knocked the ball loose.

As it bounced around in the end zone, Seattle’s K.J. Wright pushed the ball through the back of the end zone.

The refs ruled it a fumble through the end zone, giving Seattle the ball on a touchback. The Lions would go on to lose 13-10.

However, Wright’s play was illegal. NFL rules stated that he should have been called for illegal bat for pushing the ball out of the end zone. Detroit should have received the ball at the Seattle 1 and had a chance to take the lead.

But, no flag was thrown.

The Lions fell to 0-4 and eventually went 7-9 that season.

Detroit got hosed, but one of the greatest receivers in NFL history fumbled just before scoring. It was a true combination of all that SOL stands for.

5. The 10-second runoff for a bad call vs. Falcons

This one felt personal.

On Sept. 24, 2017, the Lions hosted the Atlanta Falcons in a battle of 2-0 teams.

Detroit trailed 30-26 in the closing seconds, but Matthew Stafford appeared to hit Golden Tate on a 1-yard TD slant pass on third down and goal with eight seconds to play.

Upon automatic review, Tate’s knee was down and his body contorted in just a way that kept the ball inches shy of the end zone.

No big deal, right? The Lions could get another chance. Nope!

Because the refs stopped the clock on a TD call, the clock should have been running instead. Detroit had no timeouts remaining, so the NFL adopted a policy that that requires an automatic 10-second runoff in that situation. With eight seconds left in the game, that ended the contest and the Lions lost 30-26.

The NFL essentially said “our bad” then added a kick to the groin for good measure.

I have seen plenty of teams manage to get off a snap in under 10 seconds in the NFL. The Lions not getting another chance to score because the refs made an incorrect call really felt like a higher power was at work.

4. Aaron Rodgers’ second chance at a Hail Mary

In 2015, the Lions were building some steam in the second half of the season. After a 45-14 win on Thanksgiving over the Philadelphia Eagles, they had won three straight to get to 4-7.

A win the following Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers at home might help make a legendary run.

With the world watching on primetime television, SOL came into full swing.

Leading 23-21, Lions fans got a real 1-2 punch of pain on the final play of the contest.

On the first attempt at a game-winning TD from the Green Bay 21, the Packers were lateraling the ball around and Aaron Rodgers had the ball thrown back to him. Detroit’s Devin Taylor attempted a tackle, but he did so in a way that appeared to be a facemask. Only, it wasn’t. Rodgers’ facemask was never grabbed, but he earned the call to give Green Bay a second chance from their 39.

Then, Lions coach Jim Caldwell decided not to defend for a hail mary, but a “pass back and forth kind of thing”. That allowed Rodgers to scramble and launch a pass that made it to the end zone, where tight end Richard Rodgers was allowed to easily jump up and grab it without any Lions in front of him.

Green Bay won 27-23 and the Lions were again embarrassed on national television.

3. Mornhinweg takes the wind

The Marty Mornhinweg-era seems like such a distant memory.

His run as Detroit Lions coach lasted just two seasons, 2001 and 2002.

A big reason his reign as coach was so short was due to his decision on Nov. 24, 2002.

The 3-7 Lions visited the Chicago Bears in a cold and gusty day in Illinois.

Ignore that the Lions blew a 17-7 lead after three quarters. That’s not the story.

The story is the game was tied 17-17 at the end of regulation. As the teams meet for the coin toss to start overtime, the Lions got a bit of luck by actually winning the toss.

Easy decision, take the ball and see if you can’t score to end the game. Nope!

Mornhinweg elected to pick the side of the field to defend instead. His thinking was he wanted the wind at the Lions’ back for OT in order to make a kicking situation easier. That allowed Chicago to elect to receive the ball to start overtime.

Guess what happened next? The Lions never got the ball back, as the Bears drove 43 yards and kicked a 40-yard field goal to win, 20-17. The wind didn’t seem to bother Paul Edinger.

It’s a strategy that hadn’t been done prior and hasn’t been done again. Marty Mornhinweg truly made history.

2. Calvin doesn’t complete the process

The phrase “completing the process” was essentially invented on Sept. 12, 2010.

In the 2010 season opener at Chicago, the Lions had the world against it.

Second-year QB Matthew Stafford suffered a shoulder injury in the first half that caused him to miss most of the season.

Yet, there the Lions were with a chance to win against the Bears with 30 seconds to play.

Backup quarterback Shaun Hill threw what appeared to be a 25-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson to put Detroit ahead 20-19.

Johnson leaps over his defender to grab the ball, has four feet touch the ground, his butt touch the ground and his left hand touch the ground.

Yet, when his right hand, which was palming the ball, came to the ground with his momentum, the bottom of the ball touched the ground and was jostled loose by the impact.

The refs ruled the pass incomplete, citing Johnson hadn’t “completed the process” of the catch.

Detroit would get two more chances to recreate the TD, but couldn’t do it and lost 19-14.

You will never convince a Lions fan that that wasn’t a catch.

1. Refs pick up pass interference flag in 2015 playoff game

I’m not sure any Lions fan will get over this moment.

In the 2014 season, the Lions went 11-5 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.

Detroit would head to Dallas to face the Cowboys on Jan. 4, 2015.

The Lions looked certain to get their first playoff win since beating the Cowboys in 1992. Detroit went up 14-0 in the first quarter and led 17-7 at halftime.

The Cowboys fought back, and cut the lead to 20-17 in the fourth. However, Detroit had the ball and was driving, looking to extend the lead with 8:26 to play.

On 3rd and 1 from the Dallas 46 yard line, Matthew Stafford threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens was defending Pettigrew, if you can call it that. As Pettigrew attempted to make the catch, Hitchens just ran through the tight end, never looking back for the ball. The pass would hit Hitchens in the back.

Refs immediately threw a flag for pass interference, announced it as pass interference, then somehow elected to take back the flag without any kind of review of the play. Just changed their mind on the spot moments after making the ruling.

Had the penalty stood, the Lions would have a first down at the Dallas 31. Instead, the Lions punted, the Cowboys scored the go-ahead TD on the next drive and the Lions never answered.

It’s the kind of moment that represents SOL to this day. The Lions get robbed, but also don’t have the mental toughness to overcome it. Detroit would have another possession to potentially win, but fumbled the ball away. The defense could have come up with a stop and not let Dallas go ahead.

It’s everything Lions fans have experienced on the emotional pain level, but on the biggest stage Detroit has experienced in over 30 years now.

Honorable mention SOL moments

It truly is amazing how many moments there have been. Not all could make the top-10 cut.

  • Eddie Murray’s missed field goal in 1983 playoffs: This was just a little before the SOL time, as the Lions would still go on to win a playoff game years later.
  • Dan Orlovsky runs out of the end zone: A perfect moment to summarize an 0-16 season.
  • Trey Flowers “hands to the face”: Another pair of phantom calls that go against the Lions and help the Packers.
  • The Matt Flynn game: No quarterback ever benefitted more from one game than Flynn did against the Lions. Three years, $26 million to be exact.
  • Stephen Tulloch’s discount double check: One of the key pieces to the 2014 Lions’ defense, Tulloch blew out his ACL in Week 3 celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers. He mocked Rodgers’ State Farm commercial motto, the “discount double check.” Hey, you only live once, right?
Photo by Associated Press File
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of PlayILottery.com. He was the former Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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